HC Deb 20 December 1962 vol 669 cc1452-6
The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Nigel Fisher)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement on Brunei in accordance with my right hon. Friend's promise on 10th December to keep the House informed of further developments there.

Thanks to the prompt arrival in Brunei in response to the Brunei Government's own request, under their agreement with us of military and police reinforcements, I am glad to say that the rebels' attempted coup has already been frustrated, organised resistance has ceased and order has been largely re-established. A sufficient security force is now in the territory to deal with remaining rebel pockets.

Immediate reinforcements were on the spot very quickly indeed. A police contingent from North Borneo was in Brunei within a few hours of the outbreak of violence at 2 a.m. on the morning of the 8th December and British forces from Singapore left by air about 12 hours after the outbreak. All major centres, both in Brunei and in the affected area of Sarawak, have been cleared, and life is returning to normal in the towns and villages. Rebel activity is now virtually confined to certain rural areas. The oil installations at Seria are undamaged, and all hostages throughout the area have been released.

There are no British prisoners in rebel hands. British Service casualties are seven killed and 28 wounded. Final information about police casualties is not yet available, but there were some killed and wounded. At least two civilians were killed and seven wounded. Definite information about rebel casualties is not yet available, but it is estimated that between 50 and 60 have been killed and 600 to 700 taken prisoner.

Reports so far received show that the Brunei State police put up stout, and, in some cases, highly successful, resistance to the attacks on Government buildings.

Since the rebellion in Brunei spilled over into sonic adjacent areas of North Borneo and Sarawak it is obviously essential to secure the efficient coordination of civil and military measures in all the three territories. With the approval of the Governments concerned, Major General W. C. Walker has been appointed Director of Operations and Commander of British Forces in Borneo. The Commissioner General, Lord Selkirk, and the Commander-in-Chief, Far East, are also in the closest touch with the situation.

I should like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the work of the security forces, both Services and police. I am sure that the House would wish to join me in extending our sympathy to the relatives of those who have lost their lives, and to those who were wounded.

Mr. Healey

May I join, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, in the expressions of sympathy in respect of the casualties in the fighting?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of us are disturbed by the evidence of the scale and extent of the rising which, according to the Resident Commissioner, came as a complete surprise to the local British authorities? I notice that the hon. Gentleman now says that we have captured four times as many people as the original estimate of the size of the rebel forces.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House, first, how long he expects British forces to be tied up in Brunei, and, secondly, what political and other steps are being taken by Her Majesty's Government to try to restore confidence in Her Majesty's Government among that large section of the population which appears to have participated in the revolt?

Mr. Fisher

I do not think that I could put any time limit on the operations. They will be rather difficult and may be prolonged, for they involve the clearing up of pockets of resistance in jungle areas.

The hon. Member says that we were caught unprepared, but in these areas it is very difficult to get accurate intelligence much in advance. We had been told so often that there was to be trouble, which never materialised; "wolf" was being cried so often that it was somewhat discounted. Hon. Members will have appreciated that we were not unready. Our forces were there quickly and did an extremely good job. They arrived at virtually 12 hours' notice. I cannot remember the hon. Gentleman's second question.

Mr. Healey

Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House what political or other steps Her Majesty's Government have in mind to restore confidence in Her Majesty's Government among the sizeable section of the population of Brunei which seems to have lost confidence in the last few months?

Mr. Fisher

I do not think that there is any loss of confidence, except among the rebel elements. The question of Brunei joining Malaysia, if that is what the hon. Gentleman has in mind, is entirely a matter for Brunei, but we are in close touch with the Sultan on the civil side of the administration, and I do not believe that there is any loss of confidence in the British Government.

Mr. B. Harrison

In view of the reported statements by President Soekarno, can my hon. Friend say whether there is any definite connection between this revolt and support from Indonesia? If there is, will he draw President Soekarno's attention to the fact that we are endeavouring to give self-government to the area and not to extend colonialism, as Indonesia is trying to do in West Irian?

Mr. Fisher

As my right hon. Friend said last week, there are indications, although they are not yet confirmed, that the rebel forces received a certain amount of military training outside the country. We have noted with concern the expressions of sympathy with the rebels which have been made by Indonesian leaders. They seem to have been based on a mistaken view of the nature and purposes of Mr. Azahari's attempted coup, which seems to have been regarded as a sort of anti-colonial uprising, which it certainly was not.

Her Majesty's Government have already asked the Indonesian Government for certain assurances, and we are awaiting their reply. I do not think that we have yet taken up with the Indonesian Government the broadcast which was made only yesterday by Mr. Soekarno.

Mr. Paget

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the co-ordination between military and civil intelligence, which apparentliy resulted in our being taken rather seriously by surprise? Also, when can we expect a full statement as to the military operations and the military lessons to be drawn from them?

Mr. Fisher

I do not think that we were taken seriously by surprise. As a matter of fact, the Tunku saw Lord Selkirk and expressed some concern about the situation in Brunei on 2nd December, and Lord Selkirk immediately visited North Borneo and Sarawak and Brunei. Security forces in Singapore had been reviewed by the Commander-in-Chief on 7th December and that they were at 12 hours' notice has now been proved. There is no substance in the charge that we were taken by surprise.

Mr. Paget

Can we have an interim statement?

Mr. Fisher

The hon. Gentleman can have a sort of interim military statement, if he likes, now. There are considerable bands of rebels and their associates, particularly south of Miri and there are rebels in the Temburong district, which is the other remaining centre of rebel activity, and they appear to be moving southward. That is the tactical situation on the ground. I do not know what else the hon. and learned Member has in mind.

Mr. Paget

What we want is the operational report which is normal on these occasions—the report on the operation from the military point of view, and the lessons to be drawn from it. When may we expect it?

Mr. Fisher

I will certainly draw the point to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but I doubt whether there will be any opportunity of making any further statement on this subject until the House reassembles.

Sir J. Smyth

May I ask my hon. Friend whether he will consult his right hon. Friends about a message of appreciation being sent to the Government of Nepal saying how much we value the excellent services of the 1/2 Gurkha Rifles and their prompt arrival on the scene of the disturbances? Would he also see that the sympathy of the House, which has been expressed with regard to the casualties, is also extended to the families of the Gurkhas in Nepal, which, like other families, watch and hope when their men are in action?

Mr. Fisher

Yes, Sir. I will certainly take the opportunity of sending a message both of thanks and appreciation for their services and also of sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives, in the sense which my hon. Friend suggests.

I should perhaps, say, since the point has arisen, that the Australian and New Zealand Governments have also been helpful, and made transport aircraft available, and that the Government of the Federation of Malaya have contributed a police unit, at the Sultan's request, to supplement the Brunei police.

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