Massacre of the innocents
By:James Alexander Ritchie

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tze, ancient military strategist

As I write another tragic story about our brave Border Scouts, two dear friends come to mind.

First is family friend Datuk Lawrence Lim Eng Liong, Sarawak’s Special Branch supremo and one of the communist terrorists’ most wanted man.

The second man is Kelabit Border Scout Inspector Pasa Aran, officer-in-charge of 12 Border Scouts during Sarawak’s communist insurgency.

Now 79, Pasa spoke of that fateful Sunday when his assistant Cpl Numbu took charge of the Ngemah outpost while he was away on official duty at Kanowit.

Wrote Lim: “At 7.45am on August 27, 1970, Corporal Numbu received information that CTs were hanging posters criticising the government in the upper reaches of the Ngemah River.

“In a hurry, they piled into a longboat equipped with a 40 horsepower engine at the jetty in front of the town manned by boatman Anudah.”

On board the ill-fated boat were Cpl Numbu and 14 Iban Border Scouts who ran into a “rantau” (fishing drift net) that was laid by the CTs at the Tugam-Sungai Matau junction.

“At 2pm, 45 CTs all armed with four Thompson sub-machine guns, 13 Sten machine guns and 28 Lee Enfield rifles waited at the “killing zone”, which was at one of the river’s narrow junctions.

“When the longboat ran into the net and overturned, the CTs opened fire giving the Border Scouts no chance for a counter-attack,” wrote Lim.

However, boatman Anudah and three Border Scouts Dusi, Kelabit and Tukau who were injured, swam with the current before reaching the longhouse of Ulu Ngemah chief Penghulu Ajut.

Pasa, who arrived immediately after the men left, rushed back to their longhouse base and waited.

“In their hurry, Cpl Numbu had forgotten to bring along the communications set so by noon I felt something was amiss.

“Even though there were no reinforcements, and I was the only officer left standing, I raced up to the scene of the ambush with only a pistol and an outboard driver,” he lamented.

After Ajut brought the bad news, a detachment of Sarawak Rangers was dispatched to the area to help recover the bodies.

“In Ngemah, there was panic because there was no saying that the CTs would come looking for me.

“That night, the villagers urged me to sleep at the teachers’ quarters instead of our base at the longhouse,” Pasa added.

Lim, who knew the Border Scouts personally, lamented: “It was a day of mourning for the families, colleagues and friends of the dead Border Scouts, whose bodies were sent back to their respective longhouses.

“Had these 16 Border Scouts come back with dead CTs, they all would have been hailed as heroes.”

The 12 victims were Cpl Numbu Keli, Sekudan Dampak, Imba Caring, Senang Baji, Jantuk Jalong, Edward Sli Narok, Pantau Bara, Kanching Licar, Galau Sumpur, Bryen Balet, Luyoh Jaul and Lat Cancu.

Pasa said the families of 12 victims received RM3,000 each and nothing more.

“Several years ago, the government promised another RM1,500 as compensations for each family, but until now they have not received anything.”

Lim said the Sarawak Communist Organisation (SCO) had adopted the ambush strategy drawing from the experience of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The 1970 Manual read: “All commanding and fighting personnel are expected to study Chairman Mao’s works on military matters diligently and to apply them to their revolutionary work and experiences in battle.

“At present, our forces are still small, we must have the resolution and courage to persist in the struggle … in order to increase our weapons and fighting ability.

“We are still not capable of eliminating the enemy in large numbers. So, we must ambush the enemy — this is to be our form of attack. We must endeavour to capture weapons in every battle. We shall gather many minor victories to make a major victory. It is only through long-term struggle that we can gradually expand our strength.”

In 1971 alone, Sarawak CTs carried out 41 ambushes against small security force detachments with a view of capturing more weapons.

On March 26, 1972, the CTs struck another blow when they ambushed and killed 15 members of the Malaysian Ranger Regiment from Peninsular Malaysia and injured four along the Biawak-Lundu Road.

It was an unprecedented massacre that shocked the government. Following the killings, Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak said that the war between the government and the communists was a “battle of life and death”.

He said (Straits Times, March 28, 1972): “There are those who are not prepared to support the government, obviously are not loyal to the country and they have no right to get benefits from the State.

“The rich people don’t suffer (because) they can go away. It is the poor people, and it is to the poor people that I am appealing to now. If they stand by the government, we will protect them.”

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

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New Sarawak Tribune is a Sarawakian news portal that highlights Sarawak-centric news and other stories of relevance to Sarawak.

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