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Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014

Asia

General's apology accepted 'at face value': Eng Hen

The Straits Times | Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014

Singapore will accept Indonesia's apology over the naming of a new warship at "face value" and both countries have to find ways to move forward, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.

He was responding to clarifications by Indonesia's armed forces commander, General Moeldoko, who said on Thursday that he did not apologise over the naming of a new navy frigate Usman Harun, after two Indonesian marines behind a 1965 bombing in Singapore.

The top military brass had said in a television interview with Channel NewsAsia this week: "We have no intent whatsoever to stir emotions. Not at all... I apologise."

But on Thursday, he claimed that the media had "twisted" his comments and he had said sorry only for Indonesia's "final decision" to name the warship.

Dr Ng would not be drawn into commenting on the latest about-turn.

"They have acknowledged that they have stirred up emotions... They regret that emotions have been stirred, they meant no ill intent. I think we take that at face value," said Dr Ng to reporters on the sidelines of a community event yesterday.

He added: "It's not productive for us to get involved in their domestic politics."

But the minister acknowledged that Singaporeans may feel confused or even upset over the recent developments.

"We sometimes may not fully understand the ways of others," he noted, adding it is important for Singapore to focus on "what we believe in, what we stand for".

"When you do that, others will treat you with respect."

The two marines were convicted of the bombing of MacDonald House in Orchard Road during Konfrontasi. The incident killed three civilians and injured 33.

Their execution in 1968 sparked tensions with Indonesia, which declared them national heroes.

In February, bilateral military ties were strained when news broke that Indonesia had decided to name a new frigate after the duo, with Singapore saying the move would re-open old wounds.

Moving forward, Dr Ng stressed yesterday that Singapore wants good relations with Indonesia and it is vital for both countries to move beyond the spat.

He also laid out the basis for doing so: "How we move forward will depend on our ability to treat each other with mutual respect and regard as sovereign equals."

"I am confident we can rebuild trust and confidence that has been built up over many decades," he added.

Still, despite the conciliatory tone yesterday, Dr Ng made it plain that the ban on the warship in exercises with Singapore remains unchanged.

"That still stands," the minister said. "We have made our position clear so nothing has changed."

tohyc@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 21 in The Straits Times.

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