Confrontation fighters’ visit

No military contractors should have a ‘shoot first’ culture that puts civilians or our brave military service members in danger.

— Jan Schakowsky, US politician

Back in 1963-65, during the Malaysia-Indonesia Confrontation, the sounds of Gloster Javelin and Hawker Hunter fighter jets underlined the hectic and anxious moments in Saratok and other areas in then Sarawak’s Second Division headquartered in Simanggang.

They were solid proof that the Malaysia-Indonesia border situations were in turmoil, attributed to regular firefights between the Sukarno-led Indonesian army and Malaysia’s tough jungle fighters, the Sarawak Rangers as well as the Border Scouts, whose members were mostly Iban.

Later, the Gurkhas and other Commonwealth forces, led by the British, also came to provide reinforcement.

Being in Primary Four then, we knew nothing, added with the absence of newspapers — provided one could read — except for the weekly Iban newsletter Pemberita by the Information Department.

Somehow or rather, the few of us in the backward rural school were aware of the border situations though we were hundreds of miles away and without any road access — the Kuching-Sibu trunk road only passed by us at Nanga Assam School in mid-1966.

Sounds made by the British Royal Air Force jets were only heard many seconds after their appearance, meaning they were faster than sound, thus giving the enemy no time to prepare.

It was understood that Sukarno was limited in his options for opposing Malaysia. Although equipped with modern Soviet weapons, the Indonesian armed forces were not capable of fighting a war against the British.

Instead, Sukarno decided to encourage and support subversive movements already existing in Borneo. If a major insurgency could be fomented, the British might eventually be persuaded to abandon the goal of greater Malaysia.

By the end of 1963, this strategy increasingly involved Indonesian army regulars, posing as guerrillas, crossing the border from Kalimantan to attack the security forces in Borneo before quickly returning to Indonesian territory.

One big catch by the Malaysian armed forces was Untung Soergandy, said to be a guerrilla officer with a rank equivalent to a TNI colonel.

He was killed during combat with the Sarawak Rangers/Border Scouts at Lubok Antu border. At that time, most of us at Nanga Assam shivered at the mention of Untung as his very name symbolised Indonesian aggression.

It was during this time, perhaps circa 1965, during a school break that a group of soldiers in plainclothes, led by two white men, stopped by our longhouse in Kedap, after a journey of over five hours from Debak. Others in the group were three locals, two being Iban.

I found out later, their leader was a British Captain. The other was a Lieutenant.

A big group of us were at an idle gathering outside the longhouse when the soldiers made their entrance around 5.30pm and nearing nightfall by the jungle’s edge.

It was our first encounter with soldiers and my first time speaking English, albeit a broken one in response to the question from their leader, “Any family without small kids here?”

“My family, sir,” I said, proud that I was the only one (that was what I thought then) that understood his question.

“How old are you?”

“I am 11 years old, sir!”

So they let me lead them to our bilik in the 23-door longhouse, catching my parents unprepared, but immediately warming up to our five visitors.

My maternal grandmother readily smiled at our visitors apart from offering them her betel and areca nut set that they respectfully declined.

Apai prepared to slaughter chickens for dinner. The two Iban soldiers were now talking, telling him not to bother as they brought a lot of canned food plus other items. He pretended not to hear.

After a hearty meal of rice, chicken mixed with daun ubi (tapioca leaves) and one or two other simple dishes, the Captain took out his cigar collection and handed some to Apai, which he happily accepted.

They also took out some liquor and at least a dozen canned items as gifts for our family. A few longhouse residents also came to our room after hearing that three of the visitors could speak Iban. News of the abundant liquor added extra magnetic pull.

The last two of our longhouse residents only left after finishing the second bottle of Vat 69, then perhaps the planet’s tastiest liquor (to longhouse residents).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.

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