Ba’kelalan, a remote area nestled 970 meters high in the Bario Highlands of Sarawak that I had written about in May last year is back in the news (NST Online dated Apr 14, 2010). The Royal Malaysian Army Engineers is reported to be constructing a total of 10 bridges and a 75 km road linking Lawas to Ba’kelalan at almost half the projected cost. It was around September last year that the government approved RM50 million for the first construction phase of a road from Lawas to Ba’kelalan, and I presume this is part of the same project that the Army Engineers is currently involved.
Since leaving Ba’kelalan in 1967, I have not been back to the place, despite having served Sabah on several occasions. It is much closer to get to Ba’kelalan by air from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah then it is from Kuching, Sarawak. I am not quite sure whether there are direct flights from Sabah to Ba’kelalan now, or one has to travel down to Kuching first, for a flight to Ba’kelalan. In the early days, there was already an airstrip at Long Semado where the RMAF Caribou transport aircraft would land to supply troops operating in the Long Semado area, and subsequently fly to Ba’kelalan to do a supply airdrop, since there wasn’t an airstrip at Ba’kelalan then.
When Ba’kelalan appeared in the news, I am reminded of Brig Jen Dato Mazlan Baharuddin (Retired) who in 1967 was the platoon commander based in Ba’kelalan, whom I had to replace during a changeover between our battalions i.e. 4 RMR and 6 RMR. Ba’kelalan too reminds me of a remote village called Long Rusu that is home of the Muruds and the gorgeous Murud lass named Rinai that I had written about in my May 2009 posting. I am quite sure Mazlan would be reading this posting and would reminisce with joy of having been the young and energetic platoon commander manning the Ba’kelalan outpost.
The Army Engineers is one corps that I have my greatest respect and fondness. From the experience being with them, they seemed reluctant to stop working until they were told to stop. This was what I observed during my tenure as the Malaysian Contingent Commander for UN Peacekeeping Operations in Cambodia at which time a field troop was assigned to the contingent. They are men of multiple skills and despite the enormous workload assigned to them, there has never been a whimper of complaint or dissatisfaction.
The Lawas-Ba’kelalan road and bridge projects assigned to the Army Engineers will surely be a challenging one. And it is not only the hazardous terrain and the cold nights that the soldiers have to endure, but also the long period of separation from their families. This is where most who are not familiar with the military service and their nature of work, can never appreciate the life that a soldier has to go through.
With the insurgency over, it is right that the Army Engineers be deployed to perform works that will benefit the people such as the one in Ba’kelalan. I am quite sure the people of Ba’kelalan and Lawas will remember the Army Engineers for their work for a very long time. And for the soldiers themselves, it is the field experience that they gain, that may be useful to them after they leave the military service.
And to my dear friend Brig Jen Dato Mazlan, like us who are now grandfathers, I suppose Rinai too must be a grandmother.
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION