Reign of terror — In the beginning
By:James Alexander Ritchie

Part 1

This success is … unparalleled. According to the military intelligence at that time … it saved … RM1.5 billion in operational expenditure.

— Datuk Seri Alli Kawi, former deputy commissioner of police, Sarawak

I have numerous stories of police heroes which remain buried in the pages of my 2011 book “Crimson Tide over Borneo”.

For New Sarawak Tribune readers, I would like to share some of the stories of ordinary policemen and civilians who lost their lives, were injured and conveniently forgotten.

I was able to collect their exploits with the help of two co-writers — top Special Branch (SB) Assistant Commissioner (AC) the late Thoo Kim Yean and ex-cop and current Law Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

Through the great sacrifices of these unsung heroes — 3,000 native Border Scouts, several hundred undercover SB cops and thousands of Sarawak Police Field force (SPFF) personnel — fewer than a handful received Sarawak awards.

It was Pahang — through the late Sultan of Pahang Ahmad Shah — which was the only state to honour seven of Sarawak’s Special Branch officers in 2010.

At least 500 surviving Border Scouts, who were promised compensations of RM1,000 are still waiting — perhaps till the cows come home! Many are ill or destitute.

Sarawak’s untold story began in1951 during an era of strife starting with the killing of Sarawak Governor Sir Duncan Stewart in Sibu by anti-British Malay successionists.

But a more dangerous precedent took place with the rise of Chinese proletariat aligned to China’s Chairman Mao Zedong.

Forced to establish SB comprising mainly Chinese police spies, the communists called them personnel “running dogs” (plainclothes Chinese special branch personnel); it was the beginning of a serious effort to deal with “fanatical communist subversion”.

The first policeman to be killed was Lance Corporal Natu Kadir who was shot dead at a road block at the Mile 26 Kuching-Serian Road on August 6, 1952.

An Emergency Regulations Enactment was passed in 1952 enabling the authorities to impose curfews, restrict movements and assemblies and ban the use of uniforms and flags.

In 1958, the constabulary discovered documents showing the existence of a Marxist-Leninism Organisation subscribing to Mao Zedong’s thoughts.

In 1962, a year after taking over as deputy head of SB, Tim Hardy was able to sense how communism “might inflame young Chinese burning to free Sarawak from colonialism” and understand that they were proud of the “motherland where communism was already working miracles”.

Hardy wrote in his book, The Reluctant Imperialist: “Children were huddled together in twos and threes under flickering oil lamps on the floor of sheds in pepper gardens or in clearings in the belukar on the outskirts of towns and villages listening to broadcasts from the motherland or turning the pages of hand-written copies of treatise such as Lenin’s “Imperialism, the Last Stages of Capitalism”.

“They were teaching themselves ‘revolution’ in preparation for the day they would be called upon to kill ‘running dogs’ not out of blood lust or for loot, but because the ‘foreign devils’ (the British) left them no other choice of reaching their glorious goal.”

Hardy said that while he sympathised with the ideals of the young communists, he felt something had to be done to dissuade them from what appeared to be a lost cause in multi-racial Sarawak.

“Put simply, the communists … would never be able to recruit more than a handful of non-Chinese.

“For religious as well as racial reasons, the Malays would have turned them over to the police as soon as they were approached while with one or two exceptions, the Ibans, light years away from political consciousness, still saw Chinese as itinerant merchants passing through, bartering goods, as they have done for centuries past.”

With the formation of Malaysia, Hardy was tasked by the colonial government with preparing a paper on the Sarawak Communist Organisation and in November 1962, completed a “Secret” document which made its rounds to top officials in Kuching, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu), London, Canberra, Wellington, and Washington.

Captured documents stated that they decided to resort to violence after their secret permanent base in Nonok (Asajaya) was destroyed by the security forces and communist influence neutralised by Operation Jala Raja.

A White Paper, “The Threat of Armed Communism in Sarawak” (1972), reported: “Support of the masses was not easily obtained because of effective government presence in these areas (guerrilla bases).”

To overcome this obstacle, the SCO resorted to a campaign of terrorism on the civilian population to extract the required degree of mass support for its terrorist groups and to deter public cooperation with the government.

Between 1970 and 1971, the Sarawak Communist Movement was reorganised to resort to violence as a tool to drive fear into the hearts of the people, committing at least 100 murders of pro-government “running dogs”.

The report added: “Individuals under suspicion of assisting the authorities, especially those living in the out-of-town areas, were savagely murdered and in some cases mutilated (some disembowelled); these acts of terrorism were deliberately publicised in an attempt to intimidate the rest of the population.

“Police personnel whose security functions were considered to be particularly damaging to the SCO were singled out for assassination, failing which the terrorists turned on their relatives.”

Even Iban members of the Border Scouts and Sarawak PFF were not spared. It was estimated that at least 228 personnel were killed.

The Sarawak CTs adopted the ambush strategy drawing from the experience of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In one year alone, they carried out 41 ambushes against small security force detachments with a view of capturing more weapons but with little success.

Next week (Part 2): Reign of terror — ambush and assassination.

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

New Sarawak Tribune e-Paper


An icon that we should be proud of
11 hours ago
Secrets’ societies
1 day ago
It’s Chinese Valentine’s Day today
1 day ago
Rich state, rich people
2 days ago
It’s more than blood that I’m giving
2 days ago
Spirit of Pancasila
3 days ago
Start your adventure today
3 days ago
Contented with slight musical success
4 days ago


Subscribe and get the latest news from

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

Today, New Sarawak Tribune focuses on happenings in Sarawak’s cities, towns and small places no matter how remote these are and events of relevance in other states of Malaysia and other countries.