Singapore Angry at Indonesia Move to Name Navy Ship for Convicted Bombers

By Rachel Armstrong 7 February 2014

SINGAPORE — Anger is mounting in Singapore over neighboring Indonesia’s decision to name a new naval ship after two marines executed for a 1960s bombing in the city state’s main shopping district that left three people dead.

Three Singapore ministers have asked their Indonesian counterparts to reconsider the move to name a new frigate after Osman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, who were convicted for the March 1965 bombing of MacDonald House on Orchard Road.

The issue is likely to be another pressure point in the delicate relationship between the two Southeast Asian neighbors whose ties were tested last year when the annual burning of Indonesian forests blanketed Singapore in a thick smog.

“The two Indonesian marines were found guilty of the bombing, which killed three people and injured 33 others,” said a spokesman for Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Singapore had considered this difficult chapter in the bilateral relationship closed in May 1973 when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited and scattered flowers on the graves of the two marines,” he added.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister K Shanmugam, Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean have all contacted their Indonesian counterparts about the matter.

The bombing happened during Indonesia’s “confrontation” movement with the newly formed Malaysia, which then Indonesian President Sukarno opposed, as he viewed it as a puppet of the British government.

Singapore was part of Malaysia at the time and the attack on MacDonald House was the harshest of several launched by members of Indonesia’s special Operations Corps Command who had infiltrated the island.

The two men were charged in Singapore, which gained independence in August 1965, and hanged for the bombing in 1968. In Indonesia they received the status of national heroes and a ceremonial funeral.

Indonesia has defended the naming decision, saying it is in line with its practice of naming vessels after the country’s “heroes.”

“There should be no intervention from any other country,” said Agus Barnas, spokesman for the Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs.

Djoko Suyanto, the minister responsible for coordinating the three portfolios, said Indonesia had the authority to set its own criteria for naming heroes and to name warships after them, the spokesman added.

Indonesia is Singapore’s third largest trading partner, with trade between the two totaling S$79.4 billion (US$62.65 billion) in 2012, according to IE Singapore.

Macdonald House, a brick-faced historic structure built in 1949, was home to the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp, as well as the Australian High Commission and the Japanese consulate, at the time of the attack.

Today it houses a branch of American bank Citibank.

Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in Jakarta.