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States should be sensitive to neighbour's feelings

In your editorial ("ASEAN must handle thorny issues with maturity", 11 February 2014) on Singapore's protest against Indonesia's naming of the navy ship KRI Usman Harun, you had suggested that "a member of Asean should not be bothered by whomever its neighbour praises as a hero".

As your paper had reported, Usman and Harun were responsible for the bombing of MacDonald House in Singapore in 1965. That bombing killed 3 people and wounded at least 33 others. While the two were Indonesian marines, they had disguised themselves in civilian clothing to carry out the bombing. They were tried in the Courts in a fair trial and found guilty. The appeal went all the way up to the Privy Council in London, which upheld the sentence and they were hanged in Singapore in 1968. Both countries had considered this difficult chapter in the bilateral relationship closed when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan scattered flowers on the graves of the two marines in Indonesia in May 1973.

The naming of the ship was of strong concern to Singapore as it showed a lack of sensitivity for the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the victims of the marines' actions, several of whom are still alive, and their families. We had therefore expressed this concern to the Indonesian government.

It is hard to see how, in this case, "national memory should be confined within the boundaries of individual states". The bombings were in Singapore and the victims were from Singapore. The incident is thus as much in the national memory of Singapore as it would be in Indonesia's. It is for this reason that we find it surprising that this chapter from the past has been re-opened. Building an Asean community must surely entail due regard to the sensitivities of fellow Asean members.

We are encouraged by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa's comments that there was no ill-will or malice intended. We hope that Indonesia will continue to cooperate closely with Singapore to move the bilateral relationship forward in a constructive way. This will also be of importance to Asean as a whole.

Wong Shi Hui

First Secretary

Embassy of the Republic of Singapore


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