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The aftermath of the Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation at Long Bawan

Located at North Kalimantan, Indonesia, Long Bawan is a small town with a small airport which has become the only gateway via air to Krayan Highlands.

Looking back on its history, it was one of the combat operations sites between British Commonwealth forces and Indonesian armies during the Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation.

The confrontation which started in early 1963 was caused by Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of Malaysia.

By December 1964, there was a build-up of Indonesian forces on the Kalimantan border. This caused the British government to commit significant forces from the UK-based Army Strategic Command and Australia and New Zealand to Borneo in 1965-66.

On the Indonesian side, the fight was led by Indonesian Army special forces (Resimen Para Komando Angkatan Darat or RPKAD).

Additionally, they recruited the North Kalimantan National Army or Tentera Nasional Kalimantan Utara (TNKU).

During the confrontation, hundreds of Indonesian civilians had been loosely trained as part of TNKU.

Most of them were unemployed urban youth scrounged from cities in Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

Since the battles mostly happened at the Indonesian-Malaysian border in Kalimantan, some of them were posted in Long Bawan (Indonesia).

A view of Long Bawan paddy field. Perhaps this was where parachuters landed in 1968.
TNKU members who were left at Long Bawan

Although the confrontation had been officially declared over in August 1966, the mission was technically not over for Indonesian forces.

There were TNKU members abandoned and left behind at their border camps including in Long Bawan.

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To make matter worse, the Indonesian government reportedly did not bother to disarm the army-volunteers, leaving them with weapons such as heavy machine guns and mortars.

Kenneth J. Conboy wrote in Kopasses: Inside Indonesia’s Special Forces that the ready supply of weapons and unemployed volunteers became a volatile combination.

Conboy wrote, “By late 1967, Jakarta had received reports that the former TNKU partisans were stealing food and raping women in the Long Bawan vicinity. Colonel Mung, the former RPKAD commander now serving as head of the military region, reported that the outgunned local government was screaming for help.”

Jakarta was reportedly in a fix when the government heard this news. In response, they sent out two groups from RPKAD which was led by Captain Alex Setiabudi and Captain Kentot Harseno.

Both captains had previously served at Long Bawan.

The small township of Long Bawan.

The two groups assembled at Cijantung during the first week of January 1968. Since there were no suitable runways, the units would be making a combat jump into paddies a half-hour trek east of Long Bawan.

“Although they would be parachuting with their weapons- including two rocket launchers – they were correctly concerned about opposition they might face. The ex-volunteers, after all, were better armed and knew the lay of the land after living there for almost four years,” Conboy wrote.

RPKAD came bearing gifts

Then Captain Kentot had an idea. Instead of going in with full force, they decided to go with gifts like food, writing pads and clothes.

His idea was adopted in and operation code-named Operation Linud X (“Airborne X”). On Jan 10, 1968, the groups made their jumps after light into Long Bawan.

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The military units had expected to face difficulties from the former TNKU volunteers. However, it was the terrains of Krayan Highlands that gave them a hard time. Several of the commandos landed, drifting far from their marks, mostly in paddy fields and swamp.

Meanwhile, Captain Kentot landed in mud up to his armpits and nearly drowned. One of the pallets carrying a rocket launcher was even lost during the jump.

Nonetheless, the commandos managed to regroup at Long Bawan village where its chief greeted them like old friends.

After finding out their mission, the chief tasked some of his villagers to collect all weapons from nearby cache sites.

Surprisingly, the abandoned TNKU members were extremely tame. They took the gifts kindly and offered up their weapons without any resistance.

Four months later, all of the commandos were packing to leave. Due to some difficulties with their transport, they were forced to hike to the nearest river landing. According to Conboy, they were back on Java by June after a speedboat shuttle toward the coast.

“For once, what had the potential for being another festering security challenge had been resolved without firing a shot,” Conboy recorded.

The new building at Yuvai Semaring airport in construction.
The physical remnants of the Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation at Long Bawan

While confrontation now only remained in memories for the Krayan Highlands elders (which they refer to as ‘konfrontasi’), there are some physical remnants left behind at Long Bawan.

This small town was also the crash site of an Indonesian plane during Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation.

On Sept 26, 1965 during the confrontation, a C-130 plane was shot down near Long Bawan.

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Ironically, the plane was shot down by Indonesian anti-craft fire, as it was mistaken for a Commonwealth aircraft.

It was carrying an RPKAD platoon from Java on orders to “neutralise” a gun position on the border ridge.

After the aircraft was hit, the RPKAD members parachuted out before it caught fire and crashed.

The wreckage of the plane is still at Long Bawan to this day.

Meanwhile, the locals also found the rocket launcher that was lost when Captain Kentot and his units parachuted in 1968.

It is now on display at Krayan’s Kepolisian Sektor or Polsek (Police District office).

Photocopying services at Long Bawan.
Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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