Bario folk want bigger airport, more flights to boost tourism

MIRI: The Bario War Heroes Memorial located in the Bario Highlands in northernmost Sarawak have the potential to be a major draw for paying homage and tourism as more than 2,000 foreign Allied soldiers died there in World War 2.

Relatives of these soldiers from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Europe would want to visit the memorial regularly to pay homage to their loved ones who died there and to visit the highlands.

However, the lack of flights and the small Bario airport and short runway is hindering the efforts by the local Bario natives from the Kelabit minority ethnic group from promoting the mountains, said Rurum Kelabit deputy chairman Dick Bala.

Bala told The Star that the Bario folk have been appealing to the Transport Ministry to expand the Bario Airport and runway to take in 50-seater aircraft.

“At present, there are three MasWing flights per day from Miri to Bario and three flights per week from Marudi to Bario.

“However, only the 15-seater Twin Otter aircraft can land in Bario due to the short runway and small airport.

“How can we in Bario bring in a big number of tourists if only 45 people can be flown in from Miri every day?

“The war heroes memorial there is a tribute to the more than 2,000 foreign soldiers who died in the quest to free Sarawak from Japanese occupation during World War 2.

“I am sure their surviving children, families and relatives as well as retired soldiers who once fought in Bario would want to visit the memorial, if there are enough seats to fly there,” he said.

Bala said that on Sunday, due to limited seats, only a small number of visitors could fly to Bario to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Allied Forces landing in Bario.

“It could have been a major tourist draw if not for the lack of seats,” he stressed.

On March 25, 73 years ago, parachute troops from the Allied Forces landed in the Bario Highlands, marking the start of a gruelling operation to liberate Sarawak from Japanese rule.

Army battallion chief Major-General Datuk Stephen Mundaw visited Bario village and paid tribute to the more than 2,000 soldiers and the other heroes who took part in the historic landing on March 25, 1945.

He said it was the 73rd anniversary of the landing, codenamed Operation Semut 1, that was led by Tom Harrison (the then captain of Allied forces in the area).

“We remember all those heroes who laid down their life to help free Sarawak.

“The experience of war reminds us of the sufferings and pains that had to be endured.

“Peace came with a high price. That is why we must cherish our freedom and protect our peace and harmony even as we remember those who sacrificed for the freedom of Sarawak,” he said.

Gen Stephen said the successful landing in Bario led to the Allied Forces carrying out similar landings in other difficult jungles.

“After Operation Semut 1, Semut 2 was carried out in Baram in the interior Miri Division. This was followed by Semut 3 in the Kapit Division in central Sarawak,” he said.

During the celebrations in Bario, the local community also showed their appreciation to the families of the soldiers involved in the Semut 1 landing.

Local villagers and soldiers who helped the Allied Forces were also praised and given awards.