Indonesian President cautions S’pore on “overreacting”

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Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said yesterday that Singapore should reflect on whether its reaction to Indonesia’s decision to name a Navy ship after two Indonesian marines is “proportional”.

According to the TODAY newspaper, which attributed Yudhoyono’s comments to Metrotvnews.com, the Indonesian president had given “serious attention to the issue.”

Yudhoyono’s remarks come amidst growing tension between Singapore and Indonesia this past week, since Indonesia decided to name the frigate after marines Usman Hj Mohd Ali and Harun Said last Tuesday. The ship would be called Usman Harun.

The two soldiers, hailed as heroes in Indonesia, had bombed MacDonald House in Singapore in 1965, as part of Indonesia’s Kronfrontasi campaign against Malaysia, which Singapore was then a part of.

The Indonesian decision triggered criticisms from the Singapore government, including from the Deputy Prime Minister, Teo Chee Hean, and both Defence ministers Ng Eng Hen and Chan Chun Sing, and Law and Foreign Affairs minister K Shanmugam.

DPM Teo said naming the Indonesian warship after the two marines who carried out the bombing would reopen old wounds, not just among the victims and their families, but also for the Singapore public.

“Singaporeans would ask what message Indonesia is trying to send by naming its warship in this manner,” he said.

Singapore has also rescinded an invitation to a dialogue to the Indonesian Navy chief and 100 lower-ranks officers from the Indonesian defence force. The dialogue  was to be held during the Airshow in Singapore which started on Tuesday, 11 February.

In response, the Indonesian side withdrew all its top military brass, including its deputy Defence minister, from attending the Airshow altogether.

In the latest developments, Metrotvnews quoted President Yudhoyono’s spokesman Teuku Faizasyah as saying that the “risks of over-reacting are too high”, referring to the response from the Singapore government.

“We have said clearly that we have no intention of changing the name of the ship,” Faizasyah said.

It is a position which the Indonesian Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, Djoko Suyanto, had also taken.

“There’s no need to change [the ship’s name],” he told The Jakarta Post last week.

“The Indonesian government has its own rules, procedures and assessment criteria for determining whether to honor a person as a hero. This cannot involve any intervention from other countries.”

Indonesian Defence minister, Purnomo Yusgiantoro said, “I don’t think that’s a big deal. It happens between neighbours. Neighbours are there, neighbours will be there forever. Sometimes, little things happen, but I think there will be understanding of each other.”

He added, “I believe that in the short run, medium run, our relations will be there again. No problem.”

The President’s spokesman said, “We have already developed our friendship to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), our bilateral ties are also strong, let’s not allow things like this to return us to the past when it’s over,” he added.

The TODAY newspaper also reported that Indonesian military chief Moeldoko took issue with how the two marines are being portrayed by Singapore.

“I cannot accept it if Usman and Harun are represented as terrorists,” he said. “They were marines; they were state actors.”

He added that the Indonesian military would stand firm on its decision to name the ship after the two marines and that it would resist any foreign intervention that would harm Indonesia’s sovereignty.

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