Surrender of terrorist commander Ubong
By:James Ritchie

I’ve always seen first responders as unsung heroes and very special people because, when everyone else is running away from danger, they run into it.

– Dwayne Johnson, American professional wrestler

We have all heard of the unrepentant Skrang rebel Rentap, but few know the story of Sarawak’s Ubong Nuing.

Like Rentap, Ubong relied on ancestral pengaroh (talisman) to survive the 27-year Sarawak insurgency.

This story is about two childhood friends — one a Chinese policeman and the other an Iban rebel; both their ideologies differed.

Ubong’s counterpart was Sarawak’s top Special Branch (SB) officer Datuk Lawrence Lim Eng Liong of Kanowit.

In 1957, Lim who went to an English school, joined the Constabulary while Ubong and his family had their education in a Chinese school.

Lim received his training in counter-insurgency warfare with the MI5 and MI6 in London while Ubong joined the communists from the North Kalimantan Communist Party (NKCP) which was formed in 1965.

In 1977, Ubong was appointed leader of the newly-formed ‘Party Rentap’, named after the legendary 19th century warrior.

In the midst of one battle, Ubong’s wife Burai Gambai and one of his daughters who took up arms, were killed.

By the early 1980s, Ubong was the sole Iban terrorist as in a band of 77 young and idealistic Chinese communists and they continued with their struggle in the jungles of Kapit.

After years of living in the jungle, out-numbered by the government forces and constantly on the run, Ubong agreed to surrender.

On December 24, 1985, Lim’s group of five SB officers, including Supt Frederick Rengga and three handpicked corporals Eugene Jampi, Wilson Mergie and Ngindang, prepared for a very important mission.

Lim in his memoir said it was a mission cloaked in secrecy and fraught with danger because the five policemen had to travel into remote jungle locations for a rendezvous with Ubong’s group of 30 armed terrorists.

“We did not have any support from the army or our men and if anything went wrong, we would end up captured or killed and the SB would have conveniently denied knowledge of the clandestine operation.”

Lim, who wrote a detailed report in his memoir about the five-day operation to extract Ubong from the Ulu Katibas forests, said:

“We left Lajan camp at 11.30pm on December 23, 1985. As usual I equipped myself with a Sterling with 100 rounds of 9mm ammo, loaded in four magazines. Supt Frederick Rengga preferred his Browning shotgun so did the three SB personnel.

“After four hours of midnight drive, we finally reached the meeting point in Ulu Katibas, Song, near the Indonesian border. The meeting point was on top of a hill (about 4,000 feet above sea level) surrounded by thick undergrowth and tall trees.

Lim and his group split up — he, Frederick and Yee Hieng Liong (a former communist terrorist who was their guide) forming one group, while the other personnel, another.

“It was around 1.30pm when I heard movements in the bush, coming down the hill, followed by the sound of people bashing through the bush.

“Approaching us first were his (Ubong’s) bodyguards Ling Kee Ching, followed by Yap Poh Kok. Behind them was a long line of armed PARAKU, numbering 27, including seven females.

“They quickly surrounded us and placed their guards, two each near me and Frederick and Yee. I put on a brave front although deep inside there was fear and uncertainty.”

“Ubong whom I last met 25 years earlier, smiled in a friendly way and it eased the tension.”

After a three-hour discussion Lim persuaded Ubong to allow the youngest 16-year-old Serijin who was in the group, to join his father and others who wanted to surrender.

However, Ubong said that arrangements had been made for his son to remain with the NKCP who had agreed to surrender within a few years.

Lim added: “At 4pm on December 24,1985, Ubong’s colleagues gave him their famous Communist farewell communist salute, shouting ‘Mao Tze Tung, Mao Tze Tung’.

“Our SB photographer Cpl Jampi, being loyal to the nation, murmured in reply, ‘Long Live Dr Mahathir’, our Prime Minister who was then also the Home Minister,” Lim said.

Ubong and his group travelled with the group to Kapit and Sibu; and Lim celebrating his Christmas on the police boat.

At Sibu, Ubong stayed with the CEO of Rajang Security Command (RASCOM), Datuk Ignatius Angking, for two months before another 10 months of rehabilitation.

All the surrendered CTs underwent a ‘rehabilitation exercise’ for communist returnees at the Tabuan Jaya police complex, not far from my house, for three months.

It was beginning of the end of the 27-year-long Sarawak Iban communist insurrection.

On October 17, 1990, Serijin and about 52 CTs, including two Penan cadres, surrendered in the presence of Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abdul Taib Mahmud at Wisma Bapa Malaysia in Petra Jaya, Kuching.

Ubong was employed by a timber company, Rimbunan Hijau (RH), and paid RM1,500 per month and received another small ‘pension’ of RM500 from the government.

On becoming a vice-chairman of the Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP), RH terminated his services leaving him a bitter man.

When he died in 2002 in Sibu, hundreds of former CTs attended his funeral to honour their dead comrade.

Lim passed away in 2006, still bitter that the government had forgotten the SB and Border Scouts who have been left in the lurch until today.

Together with Frederick, Lim’s men had successfully conducted ‘Operation Juliana’ which was the forerunner to the end of the NKCP.

Frederick, who rose to the rank of Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC), had played a key role in successfully persuading the native Iban to abandon the communist cause.

In early 2018, after serving the country for close to 40 years, Frederick also passed away in Kuching — a forlorn and forgotten policeman.

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

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