In one recent trip to Sarawak last month, I visited a number of settlements and villages in the state, including Nanga Tada, located some 80 kilometres outside of Sibu, in efforts to narrow the urban-rural divide in our socio-economics. A moment of that visit included my short meeting with an elderly Iban couple, Medan anak Nunying and his wife Landun anak Ngumbang, who live at Rumah Meruan. What connects me to this elderly couple is the most suspenseful and perilous event in my 14-year career as Minister of Defense.
In July 2000, a confrontation took place between an Islamic deviationist group, Al-Ma’unah and the Malaysian armed forces in Sauk, Perak. During the stand-off, a commando with the elite force was killed in action. He was Trooper Mathew anak Medan, the son of the elderly couple. Also slain during the incident was police detective R. Sagadevan.
As the Minister of Defense, I recall being advised by the Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir, and my senior military officers not to be at the front lines of the armed forces during the confrontation, but I kept myself not far from the conflict area nonetheless. Although it was not the practice for the Minister to assume actual command of the military, due to the highly political nature of the confrontation, I was consulted on making the final push to neutralise the group. We had already lost two brave men; there were grave ramifications if we were to lose more. In order to minimize casualties, my instructions were to wait until the last possible minute to move forward with the final attempt to talk them into surrendering and the attack should talks fail. Alhamdulillah, in the final moments of the event, we did not lose a single man and was able to apprehend the group and its leader.
That incident, and my visit to the parents of the late Mathew anak Medan, serves as a reminder to me of the importance of dialogue in conflict resolution. Violence and aggression may appear the easiest and quickest choice, but the consequences are almost always costly than if we choose the path of discourse.
This philosophy applies not only in military conflict situations, but also in everyday decisions. I am sure many of you will relate the importance of this value in recent events domestically and internationally. If we as Malaysians are willing to listen, discuss and be analytical and fair in making decisions and compromises, and not succumb to the oftentimes irrational and short-term decisions driven by anger, insya-Allah we will find that better solution and better understanding of each other that we all hope and search for.