Sometime in 1971, a squad of communist terrorist (CT) assassins armed with knives and parang ilang (Iban sword) crept into the technical base of a Malayan Police Field Force (PFF) platoon in the jungles of Tulai, Sarikei.
After slitting the throat of the sentry, the knife-wielding CTs muffled and chopped off the arm of another PFF personnel before fleeing with a cache of guns, ammunition and other weapons.
The manner in which the CTs carried out the brutal attack shocked security forces.
Inspector Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar from the 15th Battalion Sarawak PFF who was stationed at the Lanang Camp said from the analysis of the Special Branch (SB) he believed the CTs had used children as ‘spies’ to infiltrate the PFF Camp and befriend the personnel who in their kindness gave them food and tit-bits.
He said: “We think they (the children) informed the CTs about the layout of the camp and the positions of the personnel.”
From this incident the Sarawak PFF Battalion in Sibu came up with strict security guidelines:
• never to stay at one place more than two nights;
• never to allow anyone to enter the tactical base camp, not even young children; and
• not to bring in any person for interrogation or inquiry unless the platoon planned to move camp immediately.
Wan Junaidi (now Datuk Seri) who co-authored my book ‘Crimson Tide over Borneo’ and now Law Minister, said his platoon was airlifted to Tulai on a search and destroy operation.
A day after setting up their tactical base camp Wan Junaidi called for an ‘Order Group’ – a meeting of unit commanders – to prepare for the action plan the following day.
Among the handpicked men in his section were Sgt Langkan, Cpls Langgup and Anyang and constables Jabu, Merom, Majani, Paing and Hassan.
The following morning their departure was delayed because Cpl Jabu who was to have complied with the ‘stand to’ at 5.30 am orders, overslept and had to be rudely awakened.
Wan Junaidi said: “Constable Merom who was nearest to me volunteered to wake Jabu up – Gurkha style – by kicking Jabu’s hammock.”
When Jabu woke up he told Merom, “Anang bakanya wai! Mimpi enda manah!” (You shouldn’t have done that! I had a bad dream!). A bad dream is a premonition of bad luck and even misfortune.”
Two hours after leaving the tactical base at 8.30 am they came across CTs hiding with a family in a house on a hill.
“We moved in the box formation up the hill. My section was on the right flank to encircle the hill while Cpl Anyang with his section was on the left flank,” said Wan Junaidi.
When the hill was encircled, Wan Junaidi confronted a couple and five young children who were gathered in the house.
“I noticed six tea cups, either half full or empty and a pot of warm tea and suspected that a group six CTs had just fled.
Continuing the search Wan Junaidi and constable Hassan reached the crest of the hill, and they found a “resting place” big enough for four or five people with a commanding view of the surrounding area.
“While I was squatting at the resting place, I noticed that the grass and vegetation had been recently trampled on.”
Wan Junaidi’s hunch was right because an armed CT was hiding barely 30 yards from where he was.
“As I was stepping aside to allow Anyang, Merom and Jabu to move forward there was a shotgun blast which killed Jabu while Merom was seriously injured. Jabu’s bad omen turned out true.”
In an immediate counterattack, his men fired into the bushes from where the shot had come while Cpl Anyang lobbed a hand grenade, injuring the CT.
At the same time Cpl Langgup noticed that the injured man was trying to reload his gun with his left hand and charged at him with two others.
“After the firing stopped Cpl Langgup and two others came up from the right flank running towards the bushes in front of us with sterling in his left hand and a parang ilang in the right.
He lunged into the bushes and with his parang struck at the head of the injured terrorist.
Added Wan Junaidi: “The impact was so strong that a piece of the skull of the CT flew upward towards us. I saw Cpl Langgup scoop up the brain of the dead communist with his hand … I don’t know whether he ate the brain or not.”
Langgup scalped the dead CT by cutting the hair which later adorned his sword.
In the meantime, while Cpl Anyang was watching over Jabu’s corpse and the injured Merom, one of the infuriated constables rushed to the house occupied by the couple and five children.
A close friend of Jabu, the emotionally-upset constable driven by rage, was apparently going to take the law into his own hands and mete out justice as he saw fit.
Chasing after the armed constable down the hill, Wan Junaidi stopped the wholesale slaughter of the family.
In war or any life and death situation, there is still room for mercy after all.
Next week (Part 4): Reign of Terror: Lucky Lim – a two-time ambush survivor
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.