The indonesio-Malaysian Confrontation (called Konfrontasi in Indonesian ) opposed from 1962 to 1966 of Malaysia , supported by the British, in Indonesia on the status of the northern part of the island of Borneo , that is to say, Sultanate of Brunei and the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak . Singapore was part of the Federation of Malaysia from 1963 to 1965.

Historical context

Manila Agreement between the Philippines , the Federation of Malaysia and Indonesia (English)

In 1606, the VOC ( Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or Dutch East India Company ) opened a trading post in the Malay Sultanate of Banjarmasin on the southern coast of Borneo. The decline of the VOC at the end of the xviii th century allows a rebirth of Asian business networks, Muslims and Chinese, promoting the development of Banjarmasin.

At the end of the Napoleonic wars, the two European powers present in Southeast Asia, England and the Netherlands, renew their expansionist aims. Under the pretext of fighting against what they call “Malay pirates”, the Dutch are attacking the sultanates of Borneo, which must yield territories.

The London Treaty of 1824, signed between the English and the Dutch, grants the latter control of the territories claimed by the Europeans south of Singapore , founded in 1819 by Thomas Stamford Raffles . The Malaysian world is cut in half.

In the 1840s an English adventurer, James Brooke , put himself at the service of the Sultan of Brunei in northern Borneo, subject to attacks by pirates and rebellions of people from the interior. The sultan names Brooke rajah , that is to say viceroy of the territory of Sarawak . The Dutch see it as a threat to their own expansionist ambitions and sign treaties with states on the west, south and east coasts of Borneo that are still beyond their control. In 1865, the Sultan of Brunei leased the Sabah territory in the north of the island to a private company which became the North Borneo Chartered Company. Brunei itself became a British protectorate in 1906.

The Netherlands Indies proclaimed their independence in 1945 and took the name of the Republic of Indonesia. In 1957, the states of the Malay Peninsula gained independence as the Federation of Malaysia. From 1959 to 1962, the British, Malaysia and the British colonies of Singapore , Sabah and Sarawak negotiated for the integration of the three colonies into an enlarged federation.

This project is denounced by Indonesian President Soekarno , who declares that he is in favor of the Manila Agreement 2 , 3 , that Malaysia is a puppet creation of the British which aims to increase their control over the region, threatening Indonesia . Meanwhile, the Philippines claim to Sabah 3 , under the pretext that the territory belonged to the Sultanate of Sulu in the xviii th century. Both countries rely on an anti-federation opinion spread in Sarawak and Brunei.

In Brunei, a revolt breaks out , supported by Indonesia. Members of a “North Kalimantan National Army” (TNKU) attempted to seize the person of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin III, take control of the oil fields and take European hostages. The Sultan escaped and asked the British for help. British and Gurkha troops stationed in Singapore were sent to him. On 16 December , the British Far East Command declared that all major rebel homes had been occupied, and on 17 April 1963 the rebel commander was captured and the rebellion ended.

The Philippines and Indonesia accepted the idea of ​​Malaysia’s formation, provided that a majority of the people in the region voted in favor of this option in a referendum organized by the United Nations 4 , 5 . Nevertheless, on September 16 , before the results of the vote were known, the Malaysian government announced that the federation would be created, presenting the decision as an internal matter, not requiring consultation. The Indonesian government saw this as a broken promise and proof of British interventionism 6 .

Contrary to popular belief, no formal evidence has been adduced to support the claim that Soekarno had territorial aims over northern Borneo. Soekarno has always adhered to the principles of 1945 , which defined the borders of Indonesia as those of the former Dutch East Indies . It was for this very reason that Soekarno was a strong supporter of linking the western part of New Guinea to Indonesia, but not to East Timor . It seems that Soekarno wanted to see the creation, in northern Borneo, of a state whose geopoliticalvision would be aligned with the anticolonialist and anti-imperialist positions ofJakarta , and in which he would find an ally. Soekarno has repeatedly stated, particularly in at least four public speeches, between 1963 and 1964 , that Indonesia had no territorial ambition over northern Borneo, and that the Indonesian territorial aspirations had been met with back to Indonesia in the western part of New Guinea in January 1963 .

Local opposition and feelings about the Malaysian Federation project have often been underestimated in the literature on the Brunei revolt and the Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation that followed. In fact, the political forces in Sarawak had long been waiting for independence, first promised and then aborted, by the last white Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Vyner Brooke , back in 1941 .

The anti-cession movement, mainly Malay , which rejected the British takeover of Sarawak in 1946 and even attempted to assassinate Duncan Stewart , the first British High Commissioner in Sarawak, and may have been the predecessor of the movement. opposition to Malaysia, led by Ahmad Zaidi , who later developed in Sarawak.

The left and communist cells , which rapidly gained prominence in Chinese communities from the 1950s – later to become the core of the North Kalimantan People’s Army(PARAKU) and the Sarawak People’s Guerrilla Forces. (RSMP), anti-Malaysian – supporting and propagating the idea of unification of all British Borneo territories to form an independent state left, an idea first proposed by r Azhari, leader of People’s Party of Brunei , who had established links with the Soekarno nationalist movement, along with Ahmad Zaidi, who lived in Javasince the 1940s . The idea of ​​a “North Kalimantan” was seen as another possibility by local opposition to the Malaysian Federation project. This opposition was based mainly on the economic, political, historical and cultural differences between the Borneo States and the Malay Peninsula , and the denial of political domination of the Peninsula.

The Dr. Azhari and Ahmad Zaidi went into exile in Indonesia during the Confrontation. As Zaidi returned to Sarawak and tried to regain his political status, Azhari remained in Indonesia until his death in 2001.

Chronology of conflict

On January 20, 1963 , Indonesian Foreign Minister Soebandrio announced that Indonesia would pursue a Konfrontasi policy towards Malaysia. On April 12 , the “volunteers” ( sukarelawan ) Indonesian (in fact, Indonesian soldiers) began to penetrate in Sarawak and Sabah, engaging in attacks and actions of sabotage and propaganda. On 27 July , Soekarno declared that he was going to “crush Malaysia” (in Indonesian ” Ganyang Malaysia “). On August 16 , soldiers of the Gurkha Brigade confronted irregular elements in Indonesia.

At the same time, the Philippines did not engage in armed action, but severed diplomatic relations with Malaysia.

The Federation of Malaysia is formally established on September 16, 1963 . The Brunei decides not to join, and Singapore will separate in 1965.

Tensions grew on both sides of the Strait of Malacca . Two days later rioters set fire to the British embassy in Jakarta . Several hundred protesters ransacked the Singapore embassy in Jakarta and the houses of Singaporean diplomats. In Malaysia, Indonesian agents were captured and the crowd attacked the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur .

Along the border in the Borneo jungle there was fighting. Indonesian army soldiers and irregulars tried unsuccessfully to occupy Sarawak and Sabah. On September 28, 1963 , the Indonesians led a successful, albeit of little strategic importance, attack on the village of Long Jawe, reducing practically the entire gurkha rifle garrison . At the beginning of 1964, the Indonesian attacks succeeded in making the strategic road Tebedu- Serian-Kuching unsafe for months. Further small-scale air raids were launched on civilian populations in the Kelabit highlands. A group of Indonesians en route to the small town of Song was captured by the inhabitants and handed over to the Malaysian authorities in April 1964.

In 1964 , Indonesian troops began attacking areas of the Malay Peninsula . In August, 16 armed Indonesian agents were captured in Johor . The actions of the Indonesian regular army across the border also increased. The British Royal Navy deployed numerous warships, including aircraft carriers , in the area to defend Malaysia. The Royal Air Force also deployed numerous air squadrons . Commonwealth land forces – 18 battalions, including elements of the gurkha brigade – and three Malaysian battalions – also participated in the conflict. Commonwealth troops were very stretched and had to rely on border posts and recognition of the light infantry and two units Commando of the Royal Marines . Their main mission was to prevent further Indonesian incursions into Malaysia.

On August 17 , Indonesian paratroopers jumped to the south-west coast of Johor and attempted to establish guerrilla groups. On September 2nd , other paratroopers jumped on Labis , Johor. On 29 October , 52 soldiers landed at Pontian between Johor and Malacca and were captured by members of the New Zealand Army .

When the United Nations accepted Malaysia as a non-permanent member of the Security Council , Soekarno removed Indonesia from the United Nations and tried to form the New Emerging Forces Conference ( Conefo ) as an alternative.

In January 1965 , after many Malaysian petitions, Australia agreed to send troops to Borneo. The contingent of the Australian Army included the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and the Australian Special Air Service Regiment . There were already 14,000 members of the British and Commonwealth forces in Borneo. According to official policy, Commonwealth troops were not allowed to pursue the attackers in Indonesian territory. Nevertheless, units such as British and Australian Special Air Service did so in secret (see Operation Claret ). The Australian government admitted these incursions in1996 . In April 1964, the British government allowed its troops to cross the border and pursue the enemy within 3000 yards (about 2,700 m ) in Indonesian territory. In January 1965, this distance was increased to 10,000 yards ( 9,000 m ). There is also evidence of secret aid by Malaysians and British to Indonesian rebel groups in Sumatra and Sulawesi to weaken Soekarno’s campaign of confrontation.

On March 10, 1965 , Indonesian saboteurs led the attack on MacDonald House bombing in Singapore, killing three people and injuring 33.

In mid-1965, the Indonesian government began to openly appeal to the army. On June 28, she crossed the border into Sebatik Island near Tawau in eastern Sabah, and clashed with her defenders.

It was later revealed that the lack of success of Indonesian attacks could also be attributed to a secret agreement among the leaders of the Indonesian army, which has received military aid from the United States until 1965, to voluntarily calm the in the field. The best elements of the Indonesian army were never even sent to Borneo. One view is that the army, with the support of the United States and the British, was secretly detained in Java and was preparing a coup that would end the conflict and allow for the elimination of Soekarno. We know that the ” movement of 30 September 1965 ” led by left-wing officers will serve as a pretext for the takeover of power by General Soeharto .

It should also be noted that during the phase of open conflict, a number of Indonesian officers were undergoing military training in Australia. Another factor in the failure of the Confrontation’s strategy was the use of intelligence . Britain was able to break the encryption codes used by Indonesian military and diplomats and was able to intercept and decrypt communications from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) listening station in Singapore. This information was used to prepare Operation Claret across the border.

British psychological operations

The roles of the British Foreign Office and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) were also revealed in a series of articles by Paul Lashmar and Oliver James published in The Independent from 1997 . These revelations were also brought to light by newspapers dealing with military and intelligence history.

The revelations include statements, made by an unnamed Foreign Office source, that the decision to bring down President Soekarno was made by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and then implemented under Prime Minister Harold Wilson . According to these articles, the United Kingdom began to be alarmed by the announcement of the Konfrontasi policy . It has been said that a memorandum from the CIA dating back to 1962 indicated that Macmillan and President of the United States John F. Kennedywere more and more concerned about the possibility of the confrontation with Malaysia, and agreed to “liquidate President Soekarno, depending on the situation and the opportunities”. Nevertheless, the documentary evidence presented does not support this view.

In order to weaken the regime, the Foreign Office Information Research Department (IRD) coordinated psychological operations , together with the British military, to broadcast black propaganda featuring the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), Indonesians of Chinese origin and Soekarno in an unflattering light. These efforts were aimed at replicating the success of the British Psychological Campaign during the state of emergency in Malaysia.

These efforts were coordinated from the British High Commission in Singapore , from where the BBC , the Associated Press (AP) and the New York Times reported on the conflict in Indonesia. According to Roland Challis , the BBC correspondent stationed in Singapore during this period, the journalists suffered all the more the manipulation of the IRD, the fact that Soekarno stubbornly refused to authorize their stay in Indonesia: “Curiously, now correspondents outside the country, Soekarno made victims of official channels of information, because the only information practically available came from the British ambassador in Jakarta. ”

These manipulations included information broadcast by the BBC that the Communists were planning to massacre the citizens of Jakarta, a charge based solely on a fake made by Norman Reddaway, an IRD propaganda expert. Subsequently, in a letter to the British ambassador in Jakarta, Sir Andrew Gilchrist boasted that this fake “went around the world” and “almost instantly returned to Indonesia by the BBC”. Gilchrist himself informed the Foreign Office about “I have never hidden from you my belief that a small shootout in Indonesia would be a prerequisite for effective change. ”

In the April 16, 2000 edition of the Independent , Sir Denis Healey , Secretary of State for Defense at the time of the war, confirmed that the IRD was active at the time. He officially denied any role of MI6, as well as “having had personal knowledge” of the fact that the British armed elements of the right wing of the army, although he added that in the event that such a plan If he had existed, he would have “certainly supported” it.

Although the British MI6 was heavily involved in this case with the use of the Information Research Department, considered a MI6 service, the British government officially denies any role of MI6, whatever it may be. Documents related to this potential role are yet to be declassified by the Cabinet Office ( The Independent ,).

End of confrontation

In 1965 , General Soeharto came to power in Indonesia in the aftermath of the crackdown on a failed coup led by left-wing officers. The new Indonesian power is losing interest in the conflict. On May 28, 1966, at a conference in Bangkok , the Malaysian and Indonesian governments declared the end of hostilities. The fighting stopped in June, and a treaty was signed on August 11 and ratified two days later.

Effects of conflict

One of the lasting impacts of the conflict is the suspension of local government elections in Malaysia. Before the confrontation, the mayors were elected, now they are appointed by the government of the State .

References and bibliography


  • Easter, D. 2004. Britain and the Confrontation with Indonesia, 1960-1966 . London, IBTauris. ( ISBN  1-85043-623-1 ) .
  • Jones, M. 2002. Conflict and Confrontation in South East Asia, 1961-1965: Britain, the United States and the Creation of Malaysia . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ( ISBN  0-521-80111-7 ) .
  • Mackie, JAC 1974. Konfrontasi: The Indonesia-Malaysia Dispute 1963-1966 . Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press (for the Australian Institute of International Affairs). ( ISBN  0-19-638247-5 ) .
  • Porritt, VL 2004. The Rise and Fall of Communism in Sarawak 1940-1990 . Victoria: Monash Asia Institute. ( ISBN  1-876924-27-6 ) .
  • Poulgrain, G. 1998. The Genesis of Konfrontasi: Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia 1945-1965 . London: C. Hurst & Co. ( ISBN  1-85065-510-3 ) .
  • Subritzky, J. 2000. Confronting Sukarno: British, American, Australian and New Zealand Diplomacy in the Malaysian-Indonesian Confrontation, 1961-1965 . London, Palgrave. ( ISBN  0-312-22784-1 ) .

University Journal Articles

  • Easter, D. “Keep the Indonesian Pot Boiling: The West Covert Intervention in Indonesia, October 1965-March 1966”, Cold War History , Vol 5, No 1, February 2005.
  • Tuck, C. “Borneo 1963-66: Counter-insurgency Operations and War Termination”, Small Wars and Insurgencies , Vol 15, No 3, Winter 2004.

Other sources

  • Anonymous. 1964. Gelora Konfrontasi Mengganjang Malaysia . Jakarta: Departemen Penerangan (contains the Joint Declarations of the Manila Accords, Indonesian presidential decrees and all transcripts of Soekarno’s public speeches from July 1963 to May 1964 relating to the Konfrontasi)


Related Articles

  • History of Brunei
  • History of Indonesia
  • History of Malaysia

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Commander of the Air Force of the Indonesian National Army from 1962 to 1965, .html  [ archive ]
  2. ↑ United Nations Treaty Registered No. 8029, Manila Accord entre Philippnes, Federation of Malaya and Indonesia (31 JULY 1963)  [ archive ]
  3. ↑ a and b United Nations Treaty Series Nr. 8809, Agreement on the Implementation of the Manila Agreement  [ archive ]
  4. ↑ General Assembly 15th Session – The Trusteeship System and Non-Self-Governing Territories (pages: 509-510)  [ archive ]
  5. ↑ General Assembly 18th Session – The Question of Malaysia (pages: 41-44)  [ archive ]
  6. ↑ [PDF] in ) ” United Nations Treaty Series Nr.10760: Agreement Relating to Malaysia ”  [ archive ] , United Nations Treaty Collection , United Nations, (accessed July 29, 2010 )