LABUAN: This Federal Territory island located off the southeast coast of Kota Kinabalu is not only a free duty port but also rich in historical heritage dating back during the British colonial time and Japanese occupation period.
Labuan, which is also known as the “Pearl of Borneo”, is accessible by aeroplane, ferry (a three-hour cruise from Kota Kinabalu) or drive to Menumbok (on the western tip of the mainland) before continuing the journey via ferry which takes less than two hours to the island.
“There are quite a number of attractions in Labuan; aside from being a duty free island, we are actually rich in history too,” said local tour guide Kimlee during a two days, one night familiarisation tour to the island recently.
The trip was organised by the Labuan Chinese Chamber of Commerce who invited the Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents (SATTA) and media members from Kota Kinabalu to sample its tourism products so that it could be sell to visitors particularly from China under a proposed three days, two nights’ package.
And during the tour, the entourage visited the historical site of World War II Memorial which is one of the largest war cemetery in Southeast Asia as it has 4,908 graves belonged to the fallen soldiers from Great Britain, Australia and from Borneo region. The site of the cemetery was decided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission where after the Japanese surrender all the soldiers who perished during the war including from Kuching and Sandakan were buried in Labuan, said Kimlee.
“According to history, the fallen soldiers include those British and Australians prisoners of war captured by the Japanese in Singapore. They were moved to Sandakan to do labour works and later forced to march to Ranau,” narrated Kimlee.
And every year on November 11, there is a huge commemoration ceremony to remember the fallen soldiers and the event was usually attended by the family members or relatives of the servicemen, she said.
“During the ceremony, the cemetery will be turn into a sea of red poppy as the flower is a symbol to represent the fallen soldiers and also a sign that they are not forgotten,” said Kimlee, adding that one section of the cemetery is also a resting place for 500 Punjabi soldiers who served during the Japanese occupation.
And Labuan is also the surrender point for the Japanese soldiers where the Peace Park was built at the exact location to commemorate the historic moment to mark the Japanese lieutenant general who handed over his sworn to the Australian government on September 10, 1945, she said.
“The first ever trial for the Japanese war criminals was also carried out at the surrender point. The Peace Park was built by the Japanese government to promote peace and to serve as a reminder for us to stop war with a stone inscription stating ‘Peace is the Best’,” said Kimlee.