24 March 2014

Usman / Harun Revisited

Two Indonesian marines posed as the late Osman Mohd Ali and Harun Said at an exhibition held in conjunction with the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue, a two-day forum that sought to boost collaboration among Indo-Pacific nations.

Osman (or Usman) and Harun were two Indonesian marines who infiltrated Singapore during Indonesia's undeclared war on Malaysia (of which Singapore was then part) and, disguised as civilians, planted bombs in MacDonald House that killed three civilians and wounded dozens others. For their cowardly act of terrorism targeting civilians, they were found guilty and executed in Singapore. They were honoured as heroes by the Indonesian government in 1968.

Singapore's Response
Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs ("MFA") said it was concerned and disappointed over the incident. The Singapore Armed Forces ("SAF") delegation withdrew from the event to which it had been invited.

MFA expressed its disappointment to Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Indonesian military.
 
The portrayal did not reflect the spirit of Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marty Natalegawa’s comments of 11 February 2014 that no ill will or malice was intended towards Singapore, MFA said.

Indonesia's Response
Indonesian Minister for Defence Purnomo Yusgiantoro reportedly said that he saw 'no problem' with the portrayal of the two terrorists by TNI Navy Marines Corps at the event[1].

Susaningtyas Nefo Handayani Kertapati, a member of the Defence Commission for the House of Representatives, took a photograph with the posing marines[1].

A day later, however, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto expressed regret over the inappropriate conduct by the soldiers, saying there was no policy to do that[2].

This was echoed by Purnomo Yusgiantoro (despite reportedly saying earlier that he saw no problem with it).
 
Background
Following Indonesia's naming a frigate KRI Usman Harun after the two Indonesian terrorist marines, 
three senior Singapore government leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, spoke to their Indonesian counterparts.

The Indonesian government's response may be summed up by Minister for Foreign Affairs Marty Natalegawa's comments as follows:
 
▪ It had taken note of Singapore's concerns and that was enough to settle everything.
▪ There was no ill intent on its part.
 
Moving Forward by Shanmugam
Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam said[3]:
 
"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. 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."

I wrote in an earlier article[6] that Indonesia likely honoured the two marines for their act of killing Singapore civilians and their being executed.

As Nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan asked[3]:

"... whether the Government actually accepts the Indonesian government’s explanation that the marines are not being honoured for killing Singaporeans. I do not see how these marines would have had been accorded such honours had they not been hanged for their acts in Singapore."

To which, Mr Shanmugam replied[3]:

"I think what the Indonesian government, through its Foreign Minister, has said is that there was no ill will or malice. I do not think there has been an expressed statement in terms that they are not being honoured for killing Singaporeans."

Even if they were honoured for dying for their country, their deaths were the sole and direct result of their having killed innocent Singapore civilians.

Moving Forward by Ng Eng Hen
Singapore's Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said[3]:
 
"Singapore will not allow ... "[KRI] Usman Harun" to call at our ports and naval bases. It would not be possible for the SAF, as protectors of this nation, to sail alongside or exercise with this ship."

But when asked what Singapore's stance would be if TNI-AL include KRI Usman Harun in a multilateral exercise, Dr Ng said[3]:
 
"I do not propose to go into a litany of what we are going to do and what we have done or what we are not going to do. I do not think that is productive. We have stated our concerns. I would suggest that is more productive to focus on what and why we are deeply concerned about the naming of the ship, what it meant to us. I have stated explicitly in terms of not allowing the ship to enter our port and that SAF would not be associated with or exercise with the ship. I think that is abundantly clear. I do not choose to add to that."

If SAF would not participate in a multilateral exercise involving KRI Usman Harun, would the minister not have said so unequivocally?

Moving Forward Meekly
Dr Ng added[3]:

"As Deputy Prime Minister Teo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and I have said to our counterparts, the naming of the ship will have consequences on bilateral relations."

What consequences other than the cancellation of a scheduled dialogue between the two countries' defence ministries and the withdrawal of an invitation to Indonesian military top brass to the Air Show?

Whilst good relations with Indonesia are important to Singapore, the speed at which the Singapore Government sought to put the KRI Usman Harun episode behind us may be characterised as meekness in the face of a stubborn challenge by a bigger neighbour.
 
Singapore capitulated.
 
And, slightly over a month after protesting over KRI Usman Harun, SAF accepted an invitation to attend the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue!
 
No wonder Indonesia considers us to be pushovers.

What Other Countries Do 
Following revelations last November that Australia had spied on Indonesia and tapped the phone of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, relations between the two countries suffered a setback. Indonesia suspended military cooperation and joint efforts to stop the smuggling of people from Indonesia into Australia. Ties have yet to return to normal.

When then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong insisted on visiting Taiwan "unofficially" despite China's objections, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said:

"Whatever pretext the Singaporean leader uses for his visit to Taiwan, the visit will damage China's core interest and the political foundation for China-Singapore relations and hurt the feelings of 1.3 billion Chinese people. The Singaporean side has to take all responsibilities for the consequences arising thereof."

China suspended bilateral exchanges for several months.

Conclusion
Clearly, the Singapore Government's response, as spelt out by Mr Shanmugam[3], is not adequate:

"From our perspective, the question is this: looking at some of the comments that have come up from Indonesia — where they have said there is no ill will, there is no malice — it almost appears there is no reason to think otherwise. They had proceeded without really considering the impact on Singapore or how Singapore might view it. ... I think we have made it crystal clear where we stand, and that is achieved. The objective of making sure that it is at least in the consciousness of Indonesia that there is a certain mutuality to that relationship. Our responses have been calibrated. We take it one step at a time. We wait to see what happens ...."

There is no doubt a cost to us in confronting Indonesia. But it is far better to bear the cost than to be seen as a pushover.

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Notes

1. Indon Marines Pose as Terrorists, Re-igniting Row with Singapore TODAY 21 Mar 2014.

2. Indonesia Expresses Regret Over Marines Who Dressed as Terrorists TODAY 22 Mar 2014.
 
3. Parliamentary Debates Singapore (Hansard) 18 Feb 2014.
 
 

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