Despite reports that Sarawakians and Sabahans were generally agreeable to becoming part of the Malaysian federation, then Indonesian president Sukarno was not happy.
He accused the federation of being a neo-colonial attempt by the British to maintain control over the area, a threat to Indonesia’s security and a block to the vision of a confederation of Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines called Maphilindo.
The Indonesian government declared a policy of Konfrontasi in January 1963, and thus began the violent conflict from 1963-1966 called the Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation. Besides small trans-border raids, they attempted to exploit the ethnic and religious diversity in Sarawak and Sabah to unravel the foundations of the Malaysian federation.
The concept of Konfrontasi was introduced to Sukarno by the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), a party which was later banned by the Indonesian government in 1966.
The events leading up to Operation Hammer
The Indonesians also used the Sarawak Communist Organisation (SCO) for their operations in the confrontation.
They launched their first attack on Apr 12, 1963 at 2am on a police station in Tebedu which resulted in the death of one police corporal and two injured constables.
There were more than 150 attacks by Indonesian forces throughout Sarawak. The turning point came when they attacked the police station at 18th mile Kuching/Serian road on the night of June 26, 1965 which cost the lives of nine people.
That was when the new Malaysia had had enough. Three days later on June 29, key personnel in the defence and internal security departments met at Kuching.
According to author Vernon L. Porritt, the meeting was to discuss the communist conflict. The inspector general of the Royal Malaysian Police Force, Sir Claude Fenner at some point during the meeting pounded the table with his fist and reportedly said, “We’ll hammer them, let the operation be called Operation Hammer.”
The Goodsir Resettlement Plan
A day after the meeting on June 30, the Sarawak’s government’s Operations Sub-Committee of the State Security Executive Council (Ops SSEC) implemented the Goodsir Plan.
Named after David Goodsir the British acting commissioner of police in Sarawak, the plan was to resettle 7,500 people.
Historian Kee Howe Yong wrote that under Operation Hammer, the security forces would seal off an eighty-square-mile area, extending from the 15th to the 24th mile along the Kuching-Serian road.
Kee stated in his book The Hakkas of Sarawak: Sacrificial Gifts in Cold War Era Malaysia,
“Within a three-day period, some 1200 families, amounting to close to 8000 rural Hakkas living in the area, were forcibly relocated into three newly constructed barbed-wire-fenced new villages equipped with floodlit security fences and a twenty-four-hour curfew, with the explanation that this was the government’s gift to protect them from the communists.”
These were required to separate them from the communist influence and at the same time, protect them from communist threats.
In a story published in The Straits Times on July 8, 1965, Chew Loy Khoon wrote about his experience visiting this area or what he stated as the strongly guarded area on the Kuching-Serian road.
Chew followed the State Security Executive Secretary, D. Wilson where they visited 14th mile. There, they saw a group of children and adults bathing in a river under the watchful eyes of Police Field Force guards.
The entourage visited the 18th mile police station, the headquarters for Operation Hammer.
Chew also managed to interview some of the Goodsir Resettlement Plan resettlers. One of them – Chong Jan Moi – told Chew that like the rest, she accepted the stern resettlement measures stoically.
Chew stated, “Understandably, she was not enthusiastic about being uprooted from her rubber smallholding, ‘but I suppose it cannot be helped’ she said.”
Operation Harapan (which means ‘hope’), Operation Petek and the end of Operation Hammer
Regardless, Operation Hammer and Goodsir Plan succeeded in denying SCO access to food supplies, basic necessities and intelligence from their Chinese supporters.
By the end of 1965, the federal government built three permanent settlements at Siburan, Beratok and Tapah.
The 600 acres settlements were to replace the five temporary settlements.
By July 22, 1966, it was estimated that there were about 700 Communists in Indonesian Kalimantan and about 2,000 sympathisers.
So the Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman offered amnesty and safe-conduct passes to SCO guerrillas under Operation Harapan. However, only 41 guerrillas accepted the offer.
Subsequently in 1972 and 1973, Operation Petek was implemented to eradicate all the communists movement.
Sri Aman where peace was finally restored
On Oct 13, 1973, the top leader of the North Kalimantan People’s Guerrilla Forces Bong Kee Chok personally wrote to the Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Rahman Yaakub expressing his desire to surrender.
Five days later, 585 communists fighters (about 85% of SCO members) emerged from the jungle and laid down their arms.
Then on Oct 21, Bong and Abdul Rahman signed a memorandum of understanding at Rumah Sri Aman in Simanggang (now Sri Aman).
The signing meant the voluntary surrender of SCO, signifying the end of communist conflict in Sarawak.
Nonetheless, the Malaysian government only approved the lifting of security restrictions in Operation Hammer areas along Kuching-Serian road on Mar 5, 1980.