East Malaysia

With large areas under rainforest and several national parks, both the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo present spectacular flora and fauna, including Rafflesia, the world's largest flower. They are popular eco-tourism destinations. A visit to Sabah and Sarawak is also to experience the colourful culture and traditions of numerous indigenous ethnic groups. The island of Labuan, close to the Borneo coast, is Malaysia's international offshore financial centre.

Beginning the mid 19th century, both Sabah and Sarawak became British protectorates and in 1946 both became separate British colonies and did not become part of the Federation of Malaya in 1957. However, both voted to become part of the new Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

Previously, there were efforts to unite Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak under the North Borneo Federation but that failed after the Brunei Revolt. Sabah and Sarawak retained a higher degree of local government and legislative autonomy when compared to other states in West Malaysia. For example, both states have separate immigration controls, requiring Malaysian citizens from West Malaysia to carry passports or identity cards when visiting East Malaysia.

North Borneo was occupied by the Japanese from December 1941 until June 1945 when it was liberated by the 9th Australian Division, as described in the section on Labuan.

Sabah Sarawak and Brunei were the scene of the Confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia between 1962 and 1966. It followed on from an unsuccessful local revolt in Brunei put down by British forces. Confrontation was a series of raids by Indonesian troops along the border. The Commonwealth forces applied lessons learnt in Malaya. Under General Sir Walter Walker they made strenuous efforts to win the hearts and minds of the local people many of whom were recruited into an indigenous force known as the Border Scouts. They also dominated the jungle. The confrontation ended with the overthrow of President Sukarno.

Many of the soldiers who died in the fighting in Borneo or as prisoners of war are buried in the Labuan War cemetery or commemorated on the Labuan Memorial.

See below for the brochure on Malaysia’s Eastern Region.

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Malaya at War


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