17 February 2014

KRI Usman Harun: Moving Forward Quietly

Referring to Indonesia's decision to name a frigate KRI Usman Harun after the two Indonesian marines, Osman Mohd Ali and Harun Said, who were convicted and executed in Singapore for the March 1965 bombing of MacDonald House, Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam said on 12 February 2014 (edited for brevity)[1]:

Why Singapore raised the issue in the first place

The marines used civilian disguise. They planted a bomb in MacDonald House targeted at civilians. Killed and injured civilians. It was part of a campaign of terror. It was illegal under international law. They were tried in the Courts. The case went up to the Privy Council. They were found guilty. They were hanged in 1968.

What the event meant at that time

By the time the two men were tried and before they were hanged, confrontation had stopped. Indonesia asked for these two men, as well as others, to be released. We pardoned and released 45 including two men who had been sentenced to death because they had a bomb in April 1965, shortly after the attack on MacDonald House, which exploded but no one died.

What the naming of the warship after the two convicted marines means to Singapore

It is Indonesia’s sovereign right to name the warship as it chooses. But sovereign decisions can impact other countries, in this case, Singapore.

When Indonesia names a warship like this, there is a range of interpretations possible. At the most benign, it could mean that Indonesia did not take into account our sensitivity, how Singaporeans would interpret the naming given what the marines actually did in Singapore. At the other end of the range, much less benign, is that Indonesia glorifies their actions in Singapore rather than simply treating them as heroes who carried out their orders.

Indonesia’s sovereign right to name a warship intersects with a part of our mutual history and the Singaporean and Indonesian mutual decision to put that history behind us.

There has to be sensitivity on the part of both countries to make sure that it is behind us and not reopen it, that is why we asked Indonesia to reconsider the naming of the warship. It is one thing to name a building in Indonesia, or bury them in the heroes' cemetery. It is quite another to name a warship — the signal is very different because the ship sails the seven seas, carrying that message to every land that the ships goes to as it carries that nation's flag. What is that message? So, it would have been difficult for us to proceed as business as usual, as if nothing had happened. As a result, the TNI chiefs and officers did not attend the airshow.

What next

We have said what we think should be done. Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marty Natalegawa made some very helpful comments. He has made clear that there was no ill will or malice intended (in his interview with Channel News Asia broadcast on 11 February 2014, Mr Natalegawa said — not once but twice — that there was no ill intent on Indonesia's part). That is very constructive. We welcome his comments. In that context, it is quite important for us to know the marines are not being honoured for killing Singaporeans. It is also important that it is understood and acknowledged that the naming of the ship impacts on us and impacts on our sensitivities.

Business As Usual?
Is our government saying now that we will put this episode behind us and move forward, with business as usual?

Three senior government leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, spoke to their Indonesian counterparts on this matter and then told the local media. Other not-so-senior leaders wrote about it.

And all our government does is postpone a meeting with Indonesian deputy defence minister and cancel invitations to the air show?

Knowing that the Indonesian government would hardly change the name of the frigate, should our government have protested so publicly in the first instance?

Perhaps, I am wrong, and it will not be business as usual just yet.

Honoured Not For Killing Singaporeans
Mr Shanmugam said that it was important that Indonesia was not honouring the two marines for their killing Singaporeans.

Two things set the two marines apart from the 45 Indonesian soldiers who were pardoned and extradited:

▪ They killed civilians.

▪ They were executed.

Apart from Janatin (also known as Osman Mohd Ali) and Harun Said, no other Indonesian military personnel appears to have been recognised as heroes for their involvement in anti-Malaysia activities in Singapore during Confrontation[2].

It is interesting to note that Indonesian Lemanit bin Ahmad was sentenced to death for exploding a bomb apparently harmlessly at RAF Changi in May 1964. The Federal Court of Malaysia dismissed his appeal against conviction and sentence in May 1965. Unfortunately, there is no record of his appeal, if any, to the Privy Council or, if he had appealed, what the outcome was. He was not one of the two men (referred to by Mr Shanmugam), who were sentenced to death for a bomb that exploded in April 1965 but no one died, shortly after the attack on MacDonald House. He is not listed as an Indonesian hero[2]. Perhaps, he was also pardoned but if he was executed, then it would seem that Osman Mohd Ali and Harun Said were made heroes in 1968 because they killed civilians.


1. What Naming of Warship Means to Singapore TODAY 13 Feb 2014.

2. National Hero of Indonesia Wikipedia.

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