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Indonesia pulls out of Singapore air show amid row

February 10, 2014

SINGAPORE (AP) — Indonesian defense officials have pulled out of the Singapore Airshow in the first sign of damaged ties from a dispute over Jakarta’s naming of a warship after two commandos who carried out a deadly bombing against a civilian target in the city state during the 1960s.

Singapre last week said the frigate naming risked reopening “old wounds.”

The Singapore Defense Ministry said it had been informed Indonesia’s armed forces commander and other top officials would not attend the show, which began Monday, but the statement didn’t give a reason. Indonesia’s Jupiter Aerobatic Team will perform at the show as planned, the Indonesian air force said.

The KRI Usman Harun was named after commandos Usman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, whom Indonesia sent to bomb an office in what is now Orchard Road in 1965 as part of President Sukarno’s “confrontation” policy with the Federation of Malaysia, which at that time included Singapore.

The bombing, part of a wave of low-level attacks against the state, killed three people and wounded many more. The two commandos were arrested and executed a few years later.

The bombing severely affected ties, which only got back to normal in 1973, when Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited Jakarta and paid his respects at the two men’s graves.

Indonesian officials have defended the warship naming. Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Djoko Suyanto said Indonesia has its own procedures in deciding whether someone is regarded a hero or not.

Hikmahanto Juwana, an analyst on international cooperation from University of Indonesia, feared that the dispute could escalate and perhaps result in the recall of ambassadors.

“Indonesian society feels that as a big nation, Indonesia should not give up to Singapore’s protest,” Juwana said by email.

“Of course, during this political year, SBY (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) government would not want to be seen weak in the eyes of its own people,” he said, referring to this year’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

However, an editorial in the English-language Jakarta Post said on Saturday the move was “insensitive” and those behind it must have known it would cause offense. It also noted that backtracking on the decision was unlikely in an election year in Indonesia.

Tensions between wealthy, small Singapore and its giant and still-developing neighbor occasionally flare over issues such as haze from burning plantations on Sumatra and allegations that Indonesian corruption suspects use Singapore’s banking system to keep ill-gotten gains.

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