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Indonesia: Key Wars and Conflicts

By Adan Makina

Indonesian Conflict (1955-1966)

Between the years 1955 and 1966 Indonesia was embroiled in conflict that took the lives of millions. War erupted between Indonesia and Malaysia in 1962 and 1966. It was a small, undeclared war that came to involve troops from Australia and Britain. The conflict resulted from a belief by Indonesia’s President Sukarno that the creation of the Federation of Malaysia, which became official in September 1963, represented an attempt by Britain to maintain colonial rule behind the cloak of independence granted to its former colonial possessions in south-east Asia. Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Dr. Subandrio, coined the word “confrontation” in January 1963 which came to refer to Indonesia’s efforts to destabilize the new Federation of Malaysia instituted by Britain. Indonesia launched a series of cross-border raids into Malaysian territory the same year. A band of Indonesian insurgents attempted to seize the enclave of Brunei only to be defeated by British forces.

By 1964 military activity increased along the Indonesian side of the border with regular Indonesian army getting involved in the conflict. Under the banner of the larger British Commonwealth and fighting within the framework of its membership in the Far East Strategic Reserve, Australian units carried out operations against Indonesia in Borneo and West Malaysia. Later to be replaced by the 28th Brigade, the Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) arrived in Borneo in March 1965 and served in Sarawak until the end of July.

Strategic and Historical Setting

Indonesia is a Southeast Asian archipelago located between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. It has borders with Timor-Leste (228 km), Malaysia (1,782 km), and Papua New Guinea (820 km). Dutch colonists brought the whole of Indonesia under one government as the Dutch East Indies in 1900. And in 1928 a youth conference undertook to work for “one nation, one language, one people” for Indonesia. Four years into the Second World War Japan invaded Dutch East Indies. The Japanese helped independence leader Sukarno to return from internal exile and declare independence in 1945. The Dutch recognized Indonesian independence in 1949 after four years of guerrilla warfare. The Islands of the Maluku (Moluccas) declared independence from Indonesia and fought an unsuccessful separatist war in the 50s. After a successful period of UN administration, the Dutch agreed to transfer West Papua to Indonesia.

Moluccas Islands in Indonesia are an archipelago and are part of the Maritime Southeast Asia region. They are geographically located east of Sulawesi (Celebes), west of New Guinea, and north of Timor. By 1961, the Island of Borneo was divided into four separate states namely: Kalimantan (Indonesia), the Sultanate of Brunei (a British protectorate), and two colonies of the United Kingdom (UK)–Sarawak and British North Borneo (later named Sabah). British protectorate for Brunei ended on January 1, 1984. Borneo is divided between three countries: Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Approximately 73% of Borneo is the Indonesian territory of Kalimantan. Of the rest, 26% comprise the Malaysian Islands of Sarawak and Sabah (East Malaysia) and 1% is the Sultanate of Brunei.

In 1950, a year after Indonesia proclaimed independence, a group of Christians in the southern Moluccas islands, backed by Moluccan Christian soldiers from the Dutch colonial army, proclaimed the short-lived independent Republik Maluku Selatan (or RMS, Republic of the South Moluccas). Dutch-educated Moluccan civil servants, soldiers, and loyalists saw no future in a government dominated by hostile Muslim majority and thus on April 25, 1950 proclaimed the Independent and Sovereign Republic of the South Moluccas (RMS). This proclamation of independence by Moluccan Christians led the Indonesian Army to intervene. Several leaders of RMS escaped to Holland. Even though a vast majority of Moluccan Christians currently do not support independence, what resonate to this day in Indonesia are the past aims of the RMS and support for a separatist state. Muslims often accuse Christians of aiming for independence. Currently, Diaspora Moluccan Christians’ support for RMS remains the galvanizing force among Muslims. [1]

The surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945 paved way for the independence of Indonesia. The Dutch who were devastated by the Nazi occupation were unable to hold onto Indonesia and so Admiral Earl Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander in Southeast Asia, took over command. The aim of the Allies was not to occupy the Islands of Indonesia but to disarm and repatriate the Japanese and liberate the Europeans held in internment camps by the Japanese.

Read more:Indonesia: Key Wars and Conflicts

Adan Makina
Email: Adan.makina@gmail.com

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