Saturday, September 08, 2007

History - Sarikei Part 6. 1962-1973: Indonesian Konfrontasi and Sarawak Communists

If you were old enough to remember the curfew days in Sarikei (with police sirens wailing once in a while) and wondered why you couldn't go out and play. Here's the background...

Borneo map showing the Kalimantan border.Source: Indonesian Confrontation

Indonesian President Sukarno opposed the formation of Malaysia which he believed would help British control SE Asia and threaten Indonesia's independence. On 20 Jan 1963, Indonesia announced "Konfrontasi" (confrontation) with Malaysia. (Source: 1) It deployed forces along the 1600km Sarawak-Kalimantan border.(Source: 2).

At around that time, some Chinese youths turned to communism with their "dream of creating a high-minded 'government of the proletariat' that would distribute Sarawak's wealth equally and without regard to race or class." Few Chinese would become fully committed to the cause and neither the Malays nor the natives would support. And "what support there was ... came not from its advocacy of Maoism ... but from its opposition to plans to federate the country within Malaysia.." (Source: 2)

Government Jungle Outpost 1963
Source: Once a marine

The Sarawak Government knew about the communists from their secretly handwritten materials: "advice to followers, directives, samizdats, test papers, propaganda guides, and even whole books". For example, Lenin's "What Is To Be Done?" was translated and circulated a page at a time.(Source: 3).

In early 1963, some Chinese youths crossed into Kalimantan to join the Indonesians to take to arms. Of those communists who stayed in Sarawak, mainly in the 3rd Division, they believed that the "peasant masses" would turn to them against "imperialism" However, they didn’t get a lot of support and had to stay at the fringes of towns from which they could cadge food. On 19 Apr 1963, the Sarawak Government ordered that arms held by non-natives in the 1st and 3rd Divisions (Sarikei was in 3rd Division then) had to be surrendered. (Source: 2)

Commonwealth patrols 1965
Source: Royal Australia Regiment Association

There were about 12 Indonesian army battalions along the Sarawak and Sabah borders in early 1964 facing a lesser number (but better equipped) of Commonwealth British, Australian, New Zealand and Malaysian troops.

These were key events in 3rd Division: On 29 Sep 1963, the Indonesians killed several security folks 100 miles into the 3rd Division. Between 3-15 Jan 1964, Indonesia made "bizarre attempt to infiltrate the Sarikei area by sea" but "got no further than the mangrove on the beach." (Source: 2)

On 3 Oct 1963, 2 hand grenades were thrown at Jakar bridge (7 miles from Sarikei town) and exploded on the bridge in the morning. There were no casualties. Jakar bridge is the connection between Sarikei and Saratok on the old trunk road. (Source: 6)

At the end of 1965, General Suharto came to power in Indonesia with a coup. The Kronfontasi waned. On 28 May 1966, Malaysia and Indonesia declared the conflict was over and a peace treaty was signed on 11 Aug. (Source: 1)

A Commonwealth patrol base, 1965
Source: Indonesian Confrontation

In 1967, Tim Hardy (from Sarawak Special Branch) described a communist outpost on the outskirts of Sarikei:

Half-an-hour's crawl through one of its slime-floored entrance cum exit cum escape burrows cut through the dense secondary jungle (belukar) to reach "a clearing the size of a ping-pong table." This was circled by five sleeping places also hollowed out of the belukar; a slime-floored burrow to the latrine, "a stinking, waterlogged hole;" a "larder" of split bamboo holding half-a-dozen four-gallon tins, four large glass jars and several plastic boxes, all containing food; a kitchen with a "one-ring oil burner, bottles of kerosene, one small saucepan, one or two enamel mugs and a dozen chop sticks;" "a sealed jar containing aspirin, iodine, mepacrine tablets and bandages;" oilcloth sheets for protection against the rain; and "a tin full of documents". (Source: 2)

On 11 May 1967, after 2 Chinese were killed by communists 10 days ago, a nightly curfew from 11pm to 5am was imposed on Sarikei District but not including the downtown, Bulat or Roban Road. (source: 7)

Commonwealth patrols, 1965
Source: Indonesian Confrontation

From 1972, the communists were on their own when Indonesia, China and Russia recognized the Malaysian Federation. Rajang Area Security Command (Rascom) was formed in March 1972 to protect folks in the then Third Division – including Sarikei, Sibu, Kanowit and Kapit - from communists. Rascom was dissolved in 1995.

On 21 Oct 1973, about 500 communists laid down their arms. (Source: 2) In Mar 1974, a break-away group of 481 (about 75% of the communist force) led by Bong Kee Chok signed a peace treaty with the government (source: 4 and 5) in Simanggang (2nd Division) which was then renamed to Sri Aman (peaceful in Malay). On 17 Oct 1990, a peace agreement was signed in Kuching and the final group of about 50 communists gave up their struggle. (Source: 3)

During Konfrontasi (1962-1966), 114 members of the Commonwealth Forces, 36 Sarawak civilians and 590 Indonesian troops were killed. During the communists' armed struggle (1965-1973), 190 communists were killed in Indonesia and 340 in Sarawak. (Source: 2). Double trouble in a turbulent chapter of Sarawak's journey.

1. Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation - Wikipedia.
2. Tim Hardy: Special branch, Sarawak, December 1961-March 1968.
3. Vernon L. Porritt, The Rise and Fall of Communism in Sarawak, 1940-1990.
4. North Kalimantan Communist Party - Wikipedia
5. Malaysia: The Making of a Nation. By Boon Kheng Cheah. Page 152.
6. The Straits Times. 3 October 1963. Reel NL12150, National Library of Singapore.
7. The Straits Times. 11 May 1967. Reel NL12193, National Library of Singapore.


Daniel Yiek said...

This is a difficult post to write as there's so much info so this post is by no means a complete picture of both incidents. I tried to present tidbits that have a Sarikei angle. Any other feedback is welcome.

stlau said...

I sure remember the 60's living in 5th Mile Repok Road. Occassionally, a few communists would stop by for free food and a shopping list (of course at the villager's expense) - these guys terrorize the village people. Some of you may be old enough to remember the sound of cannon at night. I think the cannon was placed at the current park (across from Resident House)?? Would be great to see some old pictures of this place.

Sim Y said...

This kind of remind me when I was young. There used to be an army camp at one mile from Sarikei Town, with canons, for almost one year(?).
I had a chance to actually go inside the camp to look at the weapons and the vehicles (and took a ride!).
In those tense time, army were everywhere around our house and neighbours, sometimes the communists were around asking for foods.
Colored (red, green, etc in different languages) leaflets were thrown from the helicopters as well as broadcasting messages. Some leaflets were from communists, they usually left at the door steps). As a kid, I always try to keep these for collections (but lost them all). Anyone still have them?
Gunshots can be heard at nights (usually in the jungles). Sometimes canons were fired.
I think on somedays schools were closed.
Unforgettable time.

Lidasar said...

There was this folk’s tale that an Iban communist by the name something like “Ubong Anak ….” People claim he has supernatural power where bullets will just slide through him. I personally know some of the ex-communist myself.

Kanga said...

This was a turbulent period of Sarikei.We had in Sarikei on rotation; The Royal Gurhkas Rifles Regiment(very disciplined) ,Malayan Field Force (undisciplined), Sarawak Rangers, the Australian Army, and the British Army. Curfews were common. In 1963 when a wanted list was anounced (reward of $1000 - $5000 range)and on a list of 12 people, to my horror, I knew 7 of them personally! I was a teenager then and life was NOT pleasant for me. I lived in the village and one morning when I woke up there were about 200 Gurhkas lead by a British officer around my house! They almost flattened every vegetation around my area (simple reason: my neighbour was one of the 12 on the wanted list!)You lived in fear and did not know which side to pick! I still can sing a few communist songs (I must have learnt them to save my skin in those days!)In 1964, 3 of my classmates were kicked out of St.Anthony's for allergedly involved in communist activities. I knew lots of the activities then but my parents made sure I played dumb!
I have a tint of sadness in that this period wiped out many brilliant scholars from Hua Chiaw Middle School. This was a great loss to Sarikei.
Yes Daniel, too much to write about this period!

Kanga said...

For anyone interested in knowing a little bit more about the recent history of Sarawak joining to form Malaysia, please read the following article:

Daniel Yiek said...

SARIKEI: A senior citizen is wondering whether the bravery medal (Pingat Keberanian) conferred on him by the then Head of State some 40 years ago is comparable to other gallantry medals awarded to police or army personnel.

Narawi Eli, 85, told The Borneo Post that the medal was conferred on him by Tun Datuk Patinggi Tuanku Haji Bujang Tuanku Othman on November 10, 1972.

The award was conferred in recognition of his service during the first general election in the state, Narawi said, adding the election team he was attached to was ambushed by communist terrorists in Sungai Petai area in the outskirts of Sarikei, he said.

Saying he was then an outboard driver of the Forest Department, he related he was assigned as a driver of an election team for Repok constituency.

The election was staggered over a period of four weeks from May 10 to June 7, 1969 but due to the May 13 riot in the Peninsula, polling was suspended and resumed on June 6, 1970.

The staggered election was supposed to conclude on July 4, 1970.

As they travelled from one polling centre to another, they were shrouded with fear as at that time, Sarikei was ‘infested’ by communist terrorists, Narawi said.

Despite the communist terrorists’ threat which they feared most, polling had been a peaceful affair throughout until June 29, 1970 when his team was ambushed on their way back to Sarikei, he narrated.

He said this happened after they had completed conducting the election and were on their journey back in a packed longboat around 2pm.

A few minutes into their journey, he said what they feared over the past few days became a reality.

“We were ambushed by the terrorists who fired at us from close range because the river was very narrow,” he related, saying the bullets which came raining on them tore part of the longboat’s roof and bore holes in the hull.

Worst of all, the bullets hit their team leader who was the presiding officer, Narawi said, adding he was shot in the abdomen and chest and died on the spot.

Narawi, who survived the ambush, said four of the ten-member team perished in the attack.

The other casualties were two polling clerks and a security personnel.

Others who survived the ambush were a senior army officer, a police constable, a polling clerk and an army personnel.

Another police personnel survived by jumping into the river and swam to safety to a nearby longhouse, he said

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