Sunday 23 March 2014

Indonesia 'regrets' lookalike marines act

By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2014

INDONESIA'S Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Mr Djoko Suyanto, has telephoned Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean to express regret over the incident in which two Indonesian marines posed as the MacDonald House bombers at an international defence conference in Jakarta this week.

Mr Djoko expressed regret over the inappropriate conduct by the soldiers, and assured Mr Teo that there was no such policy to do this, Mr Teo's office said yesterday in reply to media queries.

Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro also telephoned Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday afternoon to express the same views.

Dr Purnomo added that the Indonesian navy chief, Admiral Marsetio, had launched investigations to determine who was responsible for this inappropriate act, Mr Teo's office said.

"Both DPM Teo and Dr Ng thanked their counterparts for this important clarification," his office added.

"They reiterated that the naming of the ship had reopened old wounds because innocent Singaporeans were killed and injured in the bombing, and said that it would be helpful if this were recognised."

This development came as Dr Purnomo told reporters that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had demanded to know who made the decision to get two lookalikes to pose as the marines at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue.

Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) spokesman Brigadier-General Sisriadi added in a statement that the incident "should not have happened".

"It is deeply regrettable and counter-productive to the aims of the multilateral dialogue attended by delegates from 46 countries," he said.

A Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman on Thursday night expressed concern and disappointment over the incident, saying it happened at "an international event to which Singapore was invited as a guest".

The two lookalikes had worn marine uniforms from the 1960s with "Usman" and "Harun" on the badges, after Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, the Indonesian marines who were convicted and executed in Singapore in 1968 for the bombing that left three civilians dead and injured 33 others.

The duo were declared heroes by their country and given a military burial at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery.

The attack happened during Konfrontasi, when then President Sukarno sent armed men to infiltrate newly formed Malaysia, of which Singapore was a part.

Indonesia's decision to name a new naval frigate KRI Usman Harun drew protests from Singapore last month and strained bilateral ties.

Singapore ministers contacted their counterparts to say the move would reopen old wounds, but Indonesian officials maintained that it was in line with navy tradition of naming ships after the country's heroes, and that no ill will was intended.

As a result of the latest incident, the Singapore Armed Forces delegation at the two-day conference withdrew from the event after its opening by Vice-President Boediono on Wednesday and returned to Singapore.

Singapore Embassy officials in Jakarta also conveyed their disappointment to Indonesia's Foreign Ministry and military.

The MFA spokesman had said the posing of the two marines did not reflect the spirit of Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa's comments last month that no ill will or malice was intended towards Singapore.

Indonesian media reports had said a number of officers and guests took turns taking photos with the two lookalikes, and reported the duo as saying they had been ordered by their superiors to pose as the dead marines.

The models were told to stand down on Wednesday afternoon.

But in remarks to Agence France-Presse earlier yesterday, chief navy spokesman Untung Suropati said they were a hit.

"We gathered up the most beautiful female navy officers for our booth but, unbelievably, visitors were more attracted to Usman and Harun. Their faces were not even that handsome," he said.

He added that the navy had initially wanted to use mannequins to represent the marines, but a sample of the faces was "too feminine".

Dr Purnomo told reporters yesterday the incident was clearly inappropriate.

During their phone conversation yesterday, both Mr Teo and Mr Djoko expressed their common desire to continue working together to have good bilateral relations, Mr Teo's office said.

Episode of warship naming far from dead
By David Boey, Published The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2014

MAYBE it was a cheap shot directed at unsettling Singapore.

Maybe it was another example of Indonesian behaviour that should be seen at face value with no ill intent, no ill will and no malice intended.

Or it may have been staged because Indonesia's Korps Marinir (Marine Corps) simply has absolutely no other national heroes in its long history.

Whatever the case, Indonesia's decision to have two of its marines walk side by side, dressed up in 1960s-era uniforms this past week emblazoned with the names "Usman" and "Harun" indicates that the Usman-Harun warship naming episode is, quite literally in this instance, far from dead.

The act of bringing the duo back to life caught the attention of Indonesia's press, who photographed the re-enactors at the Indonesian navy booth at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue. This event, held this past week at the Jakarta Convention Centre, attracted a global audience, many of whom saw a model of the warship named KRI Usman Harun alongside the marines.

Coming so close on the heels of the atmospherics over Jakarta's decision to name a new warship after two Indonesian marines convicted and hanged in Singapore for murdering civilians during the March 10, 1965 MacDonald House bombing, the picture was understandably newsworthy.

More than anything, that single image published by Tempo magazine says succinctly - in far less than a thousand words - that the twin ghosts of insensitivity and disrespect that haunt Indonesia-Singapore defence relations have yet to be exorcised.

The lack of sensitivity that plunged defence dealings between Asean's largest and smallest members into deep freeze is an unfortunate and recent phenomenon.

If you visit the National Museum in downtown Jakarta, you will find an exhibit on the MacDonald House bombing which tells Indonesia's perspective of a dark episode in Indonesia-Singapore relations that claimed three civilian lives and injured many other civilians. Blood was shed - pointlessly and without warning - after the marines bombed the office building during Konfrontasi, the undeclared war with Malaysia, which Singapore was then part of.

Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said were convicted and hanged for murder in 1968, but were feted as heroes when their bodies were flown back to Jakarta. Bilateral ties went into limbo until 1973, when then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Indonesian President Suharto agreed that it was time to move on. Accepting the advice from Singapore's then Ambassador to Indonesia, Mr Lee Khoon Choy, former PM Lee sprinkled flower petals on the graves of the two marines as a gesture that ties should move forward.

The MacDonald House bombing has, nonetheless, been recognised by generations of Indonesian leaders in the political and defence spheres as a sensitive episode best left in the past. Why?

It remains tender ground because heralding one's perspective on this issue would inevitably affect the feelings and sensitivities of the other neighbour. The individuals hailed by Indonesia as heroes for following orders are viewed by Singapore as murderous terrorists. If Korps Marinir re-enactors want to be historically accurate, their caricatures of Usman and Harun should have worn civilian attire. This was how the two dressed during their cowardly attack on a non-military target during an undeclared war. In the eyes of civilised nations, this is an undeniable act of terrorism. It is a big deal when a neighbour openly celebrates such blood lust as there is nothing to suggest history would not repeat itself.

For decades, defence and political officials from both sides pledged to move on as the issue had been closed in 1973. Singapore sought to see the Tentera Nasional Indonesian (TNI, the Indonesian armed forces) in a different light, despite international condemnation throughout the decades that echoed TNI abuses from one end of the archipelago (Aceh) to the other (Irian Jaya).

For years, the TNI was an international pariah. Arms sales to Jakarta were banned by some countries and TNI officers were shunned by others.

But the SAF was prepared to engage with the TNI, as the armed forces the SAF had first-hand experience working with showed us a different side from the butchered image painted by human rights groups.

An official from Singapore's Ministry of Defence (Mindef) recalled how he was whisked quickly past the Usman-Harun exhibit during an official visit, with semi-apologetic exhortations of "This way Pak", as their Indonesian hosts hurried them to other parts of the museum. This gesture was noted as an effort on the part of the Indonesians not to unnecessarily agitate the Singaporeans, even unintentionally.

In decades past, our two countries have benefited immensely from close and meaningful relations, which include interactions that take place away from the media's spotlight. They include specialised training for TNI warships and close collaboration with successive generations of high- ranking Komandan Gugus or Dangus (force commanders) from the Indonesian navy's various commands.

The Usman-Harun episode has, alas, made many in Singapore see the side of the TNI that we hoped we would not be forced to see. Recent theatrics engineered by some players in Indonesia are textbook examples of statecraft that is insensitive, petty and bullying.

Such behaviour is perhaps fuelled by a massive inferiority complex arising from Singapore's success story. We should expect more mischievous stunts as some elements in Jakarta turn a blind eye to the hard work of many TNI officers, men and women at nurturing defence ties by exploiting the Usman-Harun issue.

Indeed, none other than Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro was quoted by the Indonesian media as commenting that there was "no problem" with the presence of the two marines at the event.

The relationship between the TNI and SAF is in limbo. Ties that took decades of joint effort to establish and mature have now been set back many years.

It is not business as usual.

The writer, a former Straits Times defence correspondent, is a member of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence. This piece first appeared on his blog, which covers defence issues.

Row over warship's name: What went wrong?
One area of concern is that Jakarta's move caught S'pore by surprise
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

THIS week an Indonesian presidential hopeful came to Singapore to pay respects publicly to the Singaporeans who died in the bombing at MacDonald House in 1968.

His gesture comes a week after two Indonesian marines posed as Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said - the two Indonesian marines responsible for the heinous act - at an international defence event in Jakarta, to make a mockery of the recent uproar over the naming of an Indonesian warship after them.

While both governments have made their positions clear on the issue, the two events are a reminder that the naming of the Indonesian frigate is far from a closed chapter and will continue to be a thorn in relations for some time.

The MacDonald House bomb blast killed three civilians and injured at least 33 more at the height of Indonesia's Konfrontasi. Osman and Harun were captured, convicted and hanged for the attack. The issue had been considered closed by both sides in 1973, when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sprinkled flowers on the graves of the men in a symbolic gesture to repair relations.

In Parliament last month, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen made it clear that the Government was taken by "utter surprise" by news of the naming of the frigate.

This was unexpected as ties had improved and strengthened after decades of co-operation between Indonesia and Singapore.

"The naming of an Indonesian navy ship after Osman and Harun now, nearly 50 years later, would undo the conciliatory actions from both sides that had lain to rest this dark historical episode," Dr Ng said, and "would reopen old wounds".

As I sat through the half-hour debate in Parliament, question after question was directed at what impact this had on our relations with Indonesia and our position in South-east Asia.

Important questions all of them. But I wonder, could the whole episode have been avoided?

What if it had not taken us by utter surprise because our intelligence had picked up on this earlier? Could some active and quiet diplomacy behind the scenes have helped to avoid a very public dispute between the two countries? Could Singapore have had more time to react and handle the situation with our neighbours?

The result may still not have changed. Indonesia has indicated on several occasions, and Singapore has acknowledged, that the naming of the ship is its sovereign right, and the intention was to name the vessel after heroes, as has been the tradition.

But nobody seems to have addressed the question of how a decision that led to the situation escalating to such seemingly irrevocable proportions, and that the Indonesians said had been made as far back as December 2012, could really have come at us completely out of left field.

It leads me to four possible scenarios.

The first is that the Indonesians deliberately kept the naming under wraps from Singapore officials, knowing that it would cause such concern and consternation. And that it came to light only because an intrepid journalist working at Kompas newspaper decided to break the story.

The second is that Singapore's diplomatic and military channels of intelligence are perhaps not as strong and deep as we want to believe they are. Therefore our officers simply did not pick up on it till the newspaper report.

The third is that someone from Singapore - be it in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Mindef - did know about the naming. But whoever had the information, perhaps a junior officer, did not realise the full weight of its implications, and therefore failed to bring it to the attention of those above him.

The fourth is that as the Indonesians have claimed, they were simply going about their normal process of naming a new vessel and therefore no one in the military or government thought it important enough for scrutiny by high-level officials. Or perhaps it did get top-level attention, but whoever saw it did not think Singapore's reaction warranted paying attention to.

Any of these scenarios, or a combination of them, suggests a few things. One is that there may be a need to review our intelligence-gathering so that episodes like this one do not recur.

Two, it is a reminder that relationships between countries are never static but evolve constantly, especially with an Indonesia that is emerging quickly geopolitically. In his book Diplomacy, former foreign minister S. Jayakumar said presciently of this particular bilateral relationship: "On Singapore's side, we will need to recognise that it is a changed Indonesia. This means acknowledging that the dynamics of politics and decision-making have changed."

Three, if a junior officer did know about it but did not realise its implications, that suggests a need to refresh in the minds of young civil servants the lessons from our history, not just domestically, but also regionally and internationally, when they enter the service.

Nominated MP Nicholas Fang lamented in Parliament this month that much of the historical significance of the Usman Harun episode "is actually lost on the younger generation".

He added: "It is important that all of us bear in mind the need to look outwards, even as we look more deeply inwards."

A closer examination of these four scenarios might help us diagnose what went wrong, and allow us to strengthen not only our relations with our neighbours, but also our own security in the future.

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