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Why did Indonesia give guerrilla training to Sarawak Chinese youths during Konfrontasi?

During Konfrontasi or the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation, Indonesia lent their support to Sarawak Chinese.

But why?

When the formation of Malaysia was proposed, President Sukarno-led Indonesia was not the only who opposed the idea.

The Sarawak Communist movement was also against the idea of Malaysia.

Instead, the Sarawak Communists supported the idea of unification of all Borneo territories to form an independent leftist North Kalimantan state.

They gained support from Sukarno who let the Sarawak Communist Organisation use Indonesian Kalimantan as a base to build up a guerrilla force.

Why did Sarawak Chinese youths turn to communism at that time?

The then Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister, James Wong might have the right explanation on why communism seemed to be attractive to Sarawak Chinese youths.

As what was reported by Sabah Times on Dec 28, 1963, Wong stated,

“As we all know some of the younger generation of Chinese in Sarawak have been much affected by the teachings of Communism. There are all sorts of reason for this.

Many young Chinese are proud of the achievements of Communist China and feel that what is good in China should be copied here. Others have had their sense of idealism twisted and misused by the Communist leaders in the country who teach that Communism is the only road to justice in this world.

Others are discontented because they cannot get good jobs or feel they are not making enough money or that they do not own enough land and that Communism will provide the answer to all their problems.

The older people do not subscribe to these ideas, but many of the older Chinese in Sarawak are people who, in China, never received a proper education.

They are overawed by the fact that so many of their children can claim to possess an education and they defer to the views of their youngsters. They are unable or unwilling to exercise the restraints and disciplines which parents should be able to exercise.”

The testimony of a young Sarawak Chinese

According to a Sarawak Tribune report which was published on Dec 8, 1965, a young Sarawak Chinese revealed his experience being recruited into CCO.

“About April or May 1962, subject to the propaganda and influence of a cadre of the clandestine communist organisation, I joined the Farmer’s Association under the Sarawak clandestine communist organisation. In August of the same year I was again recommended by my leader to join the Sarawak Advanced Youths Association, a secret communist organisation.
Later in November, I was sent by my leader to do racial work in Tebedu. Meanwhile a racial work cell for Tebedu area was formed with me as one of the cell members.

Our method of work was to make use of the SUPP (Sarawak United People’s Party) by asking the masses to join the party openly and then to absorb the better elements amongst the SUPP members into the Farmer’s Association.

In April 1963, our leader informed us that the organisation was prepared for armed struggle and wanted to send persons to receive military training in Indonesia. The Organisation wanted us to make a road from 23rd mile to Kampong Sidek in Indonesia via Tebedu.

The route was divided into four sections, and in May that year this new jungle track was completed secretly. On June 1st, the first batch of Sarawak youths of both sexes, about 40 in number, escaped to Indonesia by this jungle track.”

It was reported that harsh and contemptuous treatment by the Indonesians, as well as deprivations of jungle life had caused some of these Chinese to lose their ardour.

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By the end of 1963, some of these Sarawak Chinese youths began to ‘trickle back into Sarawak’.

Those Communist exiles in Indonesia who have stayed behind, eventually would form the core of the North Kalimantan Communist Party’s two guerrilla formations.

The first one would be Sarawak People’s Guerrilla Force (SPGF) or Pasukan Gerilya Rakyat Sarawak (PGRS). Meanwhile, the second one was North Kalimantan People’s Army (Paraku).

With the assistance of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, PGRS was formed Mar 30, 1964 at Mount Asuansang in West Kalimantan.

How many of the Sarawak Chinese youths were in Kalimantan?

According to Justus M. Van Der Kroef in The Sarawak-Indonesian Border insurgency, “Already by mid-1964 more than one thousand Sarawak Chinese, mostly youths had crossed into Indonesia to receive guerrilla training, subsequently returning with Indonesian terrorist units, while others affiliated with the TNKU (Tentera Nasional Kalimantan Utara).”

It is believed that Sarawak Chinese youths were still slipping over the border into Indonesia to train for guerrilla war against their home state as late as March 1966.

As for the sympathisers, Herald-Journal’s report on Sept 2, 1971 might had some explanation on why some Sarawakians were not totally against communism.

First of all, the communists actually helped the people in the fields and give them medical care.

Additionally, the report stated, “Some farmers and villagers almost never see a government official; often the Communists win simply by default. In rural areas, Chinese shopkeepers have found it safer to keep quiet and roll with the punches. They don’t resist if a guerrilla demands bicycles so the frames can be made into shotguns.”

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There were other impacts of communists insurgency in Sarawak mainly due to the curfew implemented in the state.

Herald-Journal reported, “Babies died of malnutrition and of diseases that could be cured because their families couldn’t go out after help. Government teams offered some relief but not all people could be reached by the limited staff.”

In the meantime, the British Intelligence estimated that there might be some 24,000 Chinese Communist sympathisers at a point in Sarawak.

The end of communist insurgency in Sarawak

While the confrontation officially ended on Aug 11, 1966, the communist insurgency in Sarawak continued until 1990.

The number of communist operatives distinctly decreased in the 1973-1974 when Sarawak then Chief Minister Abdul Rahman Ya’kub managed to convince several of the insurgents to lay down their arms.

One of their leaders Bong Kee Chok surrendered along with 481 of his supporters.

The final peace agreement communist insurgency was ratified in Kuching on Oct 17, 1990.

That was when the last of the communist operatives officially surrendered, marking the end of communist insurgency in Sarawak.

Members of the Sarawak People’s Guerilla Force (SPGF), North Kalimantan National Army (NKNA) and Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) taking photograph together marking the close relations between them during Indonesia under the rule of Sukarno. Credit: Copyright Expired.
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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