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THE CONTROVERSY

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam has welcomed as constructive his Indonesian counterpart's comments that there was no ill will or malice intended in Indonesia's naming of a warship after two marines who bombed MacDonald House and killed three civilians in 1965.

Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said on Tuesday that no ill will or malice had been meant and that Indonesia values its relationship with Singapore.

"In that context, it is quite important for us to know that the marines are not being honoured for killing Singaporeans," Mr Shanmugam told local media yesterday.

He said that while it was Indonesia's sovereign right to name the ship as it chooses, both countries had to understand and acknowledge that the naming of the ship "impacts on us and impacts on our sensitivities".

In this case, it "intersects with a part of our mutual history, and the Singaporean and Indonesian mutual decision to put that history behind us", Mr Shanmugam said.

It was reported last week that the Indonesian navy was naming a new British-made frigate the KRI Usman Harun, after marines Osman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, who were behind the 1965 bombing that killed three people and injured 33 others.

Mr Shanmugam subsequently phoned his Indonesian counterpart, Dr Natalegawa, to raise his concerns.

"Singapore had considered this difficult chapter in the bilateral relationship closed in May 1973 when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited and scattered flowers on the graves of the two marines," a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.

Indonesian senior officials said the name was purely to honour men the nation had recognised as heroes.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said parliamentary questions had been filed on whether KRI Usman Harun will berth in Singapore waters and whether Republic of Singapore Navy ships will engage in exercises if it is taking part.

The ship is scheduled to be transported from the UK in June.