PM Lee meets President Suharto


Salleh Sariman
Salleh Sariman

Although this event took place in Jakarta, Indonesia it had something to do with what happened back home. Remember the MacDonald House bombing? Much had been written about it so I will continue after the two Indonesian marines were hanged in October 1968. When the bodies were brought back to Jakarta, an organised demonstration by a few hundred students sacked the Singapore embassy and the residences of our diplomats. The Ambassador then was P. S. Raman (my former boss when he was head of Radio & TV Singapore, now Mediacorp) who went through the harrowing experience but held on. However soon after he had a heart attack and was brought back to Singapore. The Ambassador post was filled nine months later by Lee Koon Choy. He had the difficult task of normalising and preparing for this visit. This was my first of many assignments covering PM Lee's oversea visits. My reporter was James Fu who also doubled up as PM's Press Secretary. I was briefed by my superiors of the cool if not hostile reception that can be expected. After 5 years the Indonesians had not forgotten about the hanging of the two marines. I was young and inexperienced in the affairs of state but I expected PM to do or say something to pacify our Indonesian hosts. On arrival at Kemayoran Airport the reception was warm and cordial. The diplomacy crafted out by Ambassador Lee and his Indonesian counterpart was listed first in the official itinerary. It was the visit to the Kalibata Hero's Cemetery. There PM laid wreaths on the graves of the generals who were slain in the 1965 Communist Coup. Immediately after he was seamlessly escorted to the nearby graves of the two executed marines. PM scattered flower petals on the graves. For most Indonesians, especially the majority Javanese, what PM did pacified the soul of the deceased marines. The Indonesian press and public welcomed that solemn graveside gesture. For both countries the bombing episode had come to an end. Indeed PM Lee and President became good friends. Photo 1 - Arrival at Kemayoran Airport. I had time to snap this for my album. Ambassador Lee is at centre in grey suit and dark glasses and his wife is the lady at extreme left. Photo 2 - This photo is from a book "A Fragile Nation - The Indonesian Crisis" by Lee Koon Choy. I shot this with my official cine camera and had no time to take my still photo. Photo 3 - Members of the Singapore press. I cannot recall the names of the Nanyang and Sin Chew journalists. Hussein Jahidin of Berita Harian at extreme right, James Fu 3rd from right and Chong Yip Seng of Straits Times 3rd from left. Extreme left was a local staff of the Singapore Embassy who drove and became my camera assistant. Shot by Straits Times photographer Mak Kian Seng using my camera. Photo 4 - Another group shot with Mak Kian Seng at extreme right. Photo 5 - A shot before Photo 1