Dutch-Indonesian War in Palembang

The author was born in 1948 in the oil town Pladjoe, near Palembang. Interest in her roots prompted her to research the history of the confrontation between the Indonesian and Dutch forces in the first week of January 1947. In Indonesian historiography it is recorded as the Perang lima hari lima malam, the War of Five Days and Five Nights. There are a few Indonesian accounts, quoted and translated by Ter Borg. The addition of interview results with seven eyewitnesses is useful. Indonesian sources are complemented by newspaper reports and Dutch archival material. The situation in Palembang was a sensitive one. In October 1946 the British handed over their part of the occupation of Palembang-a precarious cohabitation with the Republican administration-to the Dutch forces. On another level, soon talks between the Republic and the Dutch made progress, which resulted in the provisional signing of the Linggadjati Agreement on November 25, 1946. A ceasefire was operative, and optimism set the tone. Developments in Palembang, however, were out of tune. The Dutch armed forces were looking greedily at the oil complex of Pladjoe, a possible source of much-needed income. Thus, military power was gradually expanded and in December 1946 the Dutch Navy started to control traffic on the Moesi River. In this respect, Dutch commanders of the armed forces followed their own policies, consciously creating a crisis, that would allow them to act. That they were contravening the spirit of Linggadjati did not bother them. They were well-prepared for action and busy creating facts on the ground, maybe already rehearsing a great-scale military action against the Republic. A pretext was found and on January 1, 1947 the Dutch attacked. The Republican forces were no match for the superior Dutch combat power. After five days the Indonesian army leaders admitted defeat, and withdrew 20 kilometers, leaving control of Palembang and Pladjoe to the Dutch. The number of casualties was probably around 200, but far higher estimates also circulate. There is also reporting of hundreds of Chinese victims, but accounts are contradictory on this subject. The spirit of Linggadjati received a serious blow and made the Republic very suspicious of Dutch ulterior motives. Among the Dutch, there was severe criticism of the unilateral military action, with an angry Van Mook in Djakarta asking The Hague for backing and measures. Ter Borg has summarized the train of events in the first part of her collection in a satisfactory way.