A MEMORIAL that commemorates the landing of Allied Force paratroopers in Borneo against the Japanese occupation has been erected in Bario.
Located on a foothill in the hinterland, which is about 50 minutes by flight from Miri, the memorial will become the start of an eco-tourism trail that will eventually stretch all the way to Sibu town.
The trail will retrace the route of the reconnaissance mission, Operation “Semut”, 65 years ago by the British and Australian army. While the memorial was launched last Saturday, the trail packages will proceed in stages due to the lack of infrastructure.
Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF) Heritage Development Committee chairman Lim Kian Hock said without the success of Operation Semut, the founding of Malaysia may have been thwarted.
“When the Allied Forces landed, headed by Major Tom Harrison of the British Army, who later became the Sarawak Museum curator, the locals welcomed them. They did not report the troops’ presence to the Japanese,” Lim said.
Other Allied personnel, who landed across the border in Dutch Borneo (now Indonesia), were not so lucky. “They were reported and were beheaded,” Lim said.
“The people of Bario were intensely loyal to the Allied paratroopers. Bario paved the way for operation Semut towards the liberation of Borneo, and in particular, Sarawak.”
On the memorial, located on a foothill of undulating mountains, Lim said: “The design follows the theme on the spirit for freedom and unity. This is an artwork produced with stainless steel based on the form of the Orang Ulu musical instrument, “sape.”
STF president Wee Hong Seng said the new memorial at Bario has already created interest overseas.
“We have received communication from the descendants and friends of the former commandos, from as far as the UK and Australia,” Wee said.
“These tourists were keen to retrace their forefathers’ wartime footsteps, and to get to know the valuable assistance and friendship given by the local interior communities.”
Meanwhile, Tourism and Heritage Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan said the memorial would be “a manifestation of what we can do in the future”.
Speaking at a wreath laying ceremony at the memorial, Dr Chan said the state government would continue to emphasise on tourism products that are owned by locals.
“I think local ownership and community based tourism is very important, because sometimes outsiders may not fully understand what should be done,” Dr Chan, who is also deputy chief minister, said.
“City planners may have other ideas, or worse, some may just run away after money is made. Furthermore, I’m convince that local communities will emphasise more on nature, which is where Sarawak’s tourism potential really is.”