Honouring a forgotten debt
Honouring a forgotten debt

As our beloved nation celebrates Malaysia Day on Sept 16, 59 years after the formation of Malaysia, we urge the federal and state governments to remember and recognise the selfless contributions of the Sarawak Border Scouts.

Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry secretary-general Libat Langub

For years I have dreamt of writing a book about a group of selfless Sarawak natives who spent a lifetime fighting terrorists for pittance.

Known as the Border Scouts, these legendary fighters put their lives on the line against the powerful Indonesian army during the Confrontation.

With President Sukarno threatening to ‘ganyang’ (crush) Malaysia, British army commander of the Borneo Security Forces Major General Walter Walker realised war could never be won without the natives.

In the first Malayan Emergency from 1948 till 1960, more than 2,000 Iban Trekkers from Sarawak described by British military commander Sir Gerald Templer as “the best trackers in the world,” fought Chin Peng’s army with distinction!

Four months before Malaysia Day in May 1963, Major John Cross formed the Border Scouts and sent about 5,000 natives to fight the Indonesian army of one million soldiers and volunteer Indonesian Border Terrorists (IBT) at the 1,000km-long border!

Throwing caution to the wind, the brave but desperately-poor natives took on the mission despite a paltry monthly salary of RM150.

Border Scouts were also sent on special ‘spy’ missions into enemy territory without firearms and totally reliant on the ‘dukuk’ — a razor sharp long knife, if their cover was blown.

In the first cross-border incident on September 28, 1963, more than 200 Indonesian terrorists bombarded and captured a small farming community of 600.

Describing the incident, Australian Pastor Ray Cunningham in ‘Long Houses Open Doors — God’s Glory in Borneo’, gave details of the Long Jawe massacre involving the guile of a Christian evangelist.

‘Pendita’ Ungau from East Kalimantan had visited Long Jawe on the pretext of baptising the Kenyah who had recently become Christians.

Said Cunningham: “He (Ungau) also showed concern to befriend the Gurkhas and look over their installation … baptised 40 people before returning.

“However, he didn’t return to Indonesia. There was a group of more than 200 TNKU soldiers (actually elite commandos from the RPKAD commando regiment) waiting up the river.

“Their commander was no other than Pendita Ungau who emerged wearing the uniform of an Indonesian army captain.”

At 4am on September 28, the elite Indonesian commandos cut off the Gurkha communication wires, confiscated all their food in the village and told the people to assemble on a large pebbled riverbank a short distance away from the village, as they began their six-hour long assault on the Long Jawe forward outpost.

Harold James and Denis Sheil-Small in their book, ‘The Undeclared War’, stated that the raiders had sneaked into Long Jawe two days earlier and hid in separate longhouses in the village.

“At first light, a fusillade of MMG and rifle fire raked the building; a bomb from a 60mm mortar ricocheted off a tree and exploded directly overhead.

“This assault knocked out the Gurkha and police radio operators as well as the radios before any message could be sent.”

A Gurkha soldier, Border Scout and police operator were killed while remaining newly-trained Border Scouts panicked and fled into the forests before being captured.

Instinctively, group leader Cpl Tejbahadur grabbed a large cache of hand grenades and together with his colleagues, a PFF operator and a Border Scout, ran uphill and launched a counter-attack.

They kept the enemy at bay for three hours before they ran short of ammunition and retreated and made their way back to the Gurkha Battalion HQ at Belaga.

Fleeing the outpost, the first group of raiders detained 12 border scouts as they headed Upper Balui River in several boats.

However, after setting up camp close to the Kalimantan border, several captives escaped into the jungle and made their way to Belaga.

On September 30, troops under Lt Pasbahadur from the 11th Gurkha Platoon were sent by helicopter to Upper Balui.

Abseiling into the hilly region, they set up several ambushes and killed 26 raiders in two longboats and eight more in follow-up operations.

In retaliation, a group who had set up camp further upriver, tortured and mutilated the seven hostages who were killed in cold blood.

After the massacre, Minister of Sarawak Affairs Temenggong Jugah flew to Long Jawe to dole out token compensations of several hundred dollars, to the victims’ families.

Border Scout Inspector Pasa Aran, who was trained by the SAS or British counter-terrorism group in 1963, spoke of the sad affairs relating to his colleagues.

“Until 1965, we were receiving the same salary of a flat rate of RM150 each,” said Pasa.

In 1970, Pasa experienced Sarawak’s worse Border Scouts tragedy when 12 Border Scouts at the Ngemah Border Scout outpost in Kapit, were lured into a trap and massacred!

“Immediately after Ngemah, we were told the government would increase the Border Scouts’ compensation to their families to as high as RM3,000 but it never happened.”

When Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was Defence Minister in the 1990s, he promised a gratuity of RM1,000 each to the families of all the 5,000 Border Scouts who served the country during the 27-year insurgency from 1963 till 1990.

Today, 30 years later the promise made, is still a debt forgotten!

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.


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