The Capture of 2 CTs in Kanowit
I was "hand picked" by the Commanding Officer of 10th Rangers, Lt Col M F Nesaratnam, to be his Second-In-Command. He was an old buddy when we were in 3rd Rangers in the late 60s and early 70s when 3rd Rangers was based in Taiping, Perak. Soon after graduating from the Armed Forces Staff College, Haigate, Kuala Lumpur at the end of 1982, I immediately reported to 10th Rangers in Bau. It was an appointment I looked forward to, for many reasons. Firstly, I was going to have a good working relationship with the Commanding Officer as he was not only a close buddy but we shared many common interests - one of them being the game of squash. Our quarters in Penrissen camp were within shouting distance and we often played endless hours of entertaining squash. The late Lt Col Nesa was an outstanding and a natural sportsman. He especially excelled in racquets games - tennis, badminton and squash. I was good myself but however hard I tried, I could never beat him! How frustrating! Secondly, I was going home! I missed my folks and my long house. The posting would give me the golden opportunity to catch up with many many lost years. My long house was only two hours drive from Kuching and I hoped to take full advantage of it whenever time would permit. I remembered in early 1983, Rejang Security Command (RASCOM) intensified its effort, through Operation Jala Aman, to eliminate remnants of the hardcore CTs in the Third Division of Sarawak. A cordon and search operation was mounted on a group of CTs. All available troops, including Service units, were called in to assist. There had been a number of contacts and firefights but the Security Forces failed to inflict casualties on the elusive CTs. Surprisingly, they managed to slip through the tight cordon. When all these were happening, I was at our rear base in Bau, a small town some twenty kilometers from Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak. One day, I received a message from RASCOM in Sibu, asking me to report for a special mission. I was to lead three clandestine groups of one each from 8 Rangers, 10 Rangers and a Police Special Branch Unit in an operation code named Jala Aman 3 in Bawan, Pedai and Bob areas along the Rejang River, just below Kanowit. The Chinese in these areas were known to sympathise and support the CTs. After all, many of them were related. After Operation Jala Aman 1 and 2, it was thought that the CTs might try to contact their supporters and sympathizers in these areas. On July 23, 1983, disguised as Police Field Force escorts for a Police Special Branch team conducting masses works in the area, we took to familiarise ourselves with the area and identify the target houses. We were dressed in their jungle green uniforms. This phase lasted one whole day. We returned to Sibu with the Police team late that evening. A couple of days later, under cover of darkness, we came back to the same area. This time we were disguised as locals. For the next two weeks, optimising and taking advantage of my night vision goggle, I patrolled and laid ambushes at night. By day, I observed the target houses and the surrounding areas. It was a disappointment. The CTs were nowhere to be seen and there was no movement at all. The Chinese in that area must have smelled the operation and left. On August 7, 1983, I was pulled out to Kanowit town. The other two teams followed suit a few days later. Three days later, acting on a sighting information from the Special Branch, I was redeployed to an area sandwiched by two tributaries of the Rejang River - Pelak and Jih. Reinforced by twelve SBPU personnels, I searched the area for three days. Again, the result was negative. On August 14, 1983, we were withdrawn again to Kanowit. Troops in other sectors of operations were also being pulled out. It was a clear sign that Operation Jala Aman 3 was drawing to a close. It was going to be a disappointment and another failure! Barely two hours after our arrival in Kanowit, I was told to meet two senior staff officers from RASCOM, Lieutenant Colonel James Tomlow ak Isa and Superintendent Lawrence Lim in Kanowit Police Operation Room. They were accompanied by two Border Scouts –both were former soldiers of the elite 1st Rangers, the direct descendent of the famous and illustrious Sarawak Rangers. They looked happy and excited and I knew they must be having good and reliable information. My guess was right. According to a long house headman in Machan, Kanowit, he had been trying to persuade two CTs (a couple) to surrender to the authority. They had been staying in his farm for the past two days. The CTs refused but instead had asked the headman to bring them to Kanowit town in his long boat. They were to leave Machan for Kanowit at dawn on August 15, 1983, and expected to reach Kanowit town between 7.00 a.m to 8.00 a.m on the same day. A waiting car would bring them to Sungai Nibong, a place further down the Rejang River and from there to an undisclosed destination. In order for the car driver to recognise them, the male CT would be wearing a red cap. The plan was for me to intercept them as soon as they land at any of the jetties immediately below the main jetty of Kanowit town. Firing of firearms must be the last resort in order to avoid accidental shooting of civilians; who by then would be up and about their daily chores. The operation involved a total of nineteen personnel from the SBPU team, the famed Border Scouts and my special group of five from 10th Rangers. We were divided into three groups. The first group of six SBPU personnel would be deployed to observe and follow the CTs from Machan. Halfway down, another group of six SBPU personnel would be deployed as a cut off at a place called Balingan/Melipis. I and my group, including the two Border Scout personnel I met in the Police Operation Room were to apprehend the CTs as soon as they land in Kanowit. The two groups for Machan and Melipis were deployed at about 2.00 a.m on the day concerned. I moved into my position at about 6.00 a.m. I didn’t want to move in too early and aroused suspicion of civilians moving about in the area. There were three possible landing points – three small jetties that spanned an area about one hundred meters wide and only fifty to sixty meters from the rows of shop houses overlooking the river. I deployed my men to cover all three jetties. I were to observe the jetty in the centre together with the two Border Scouts as they were able to recognise the long house headman driving the boat from Machan. Dressed in civilian clothes and with our weapons hidden but within easy reach in the bushes, we blended with the locals, who by then were already busy going about their chores. We waited and scanned every boat that came down the Katibas river. After so many boats and dented hopes, we noticed a small long boat with three people in it, slowly coming down the river. The person in the centre was wearing a red cap! The Border Scout confirmed the driver of the boat was the long house headman. We retrieved our weapons and crouched low behind the bushes. The boat went pass the three jetties. I thought for a moment, they were trying to avoid the town and went further downriver. I quickly made up my mind on what I would do if that was the situation. But then; it made a wide U-turn and headed for my jetty. As it came alongside, I and the two Border Scouts were already there to ensure there was no way the CTs could escape from us alive. Almost at the same time, the SBPU groups from Machan and Melipis also landed at the jetty. They had been tailing the CTs all the way. We relieved the CTs of their belongings and took them into a waiting police vehicle. They were taken to Kanowit Police Station, where Suprintendent Lawrence Lim and Lieutenant Colonel James Tomlow were waiting. To RASCOM, the capture of the two CTs was a huge success as they would be able to shade lights on so many things that all these while had been purely intelligent guess works. For me that was a befitting end of my involvement in Operation Jala Aman 3. A couple of days later, I and my men returned to our home base in Bau, Sarawak. For that little episode, my commanding officer presented me with a dagger inscribed with the words “For the capture of 2 CTs in Kanowit on October 15, 1983.” That little episode marked the beginning of my adventure and the wild-goose chase with remnants of the CTs in the Third Division of Sarawak throughout the 1983 to 1987 period.
My Team that captured the 2 CTs in Kanowit comprising of SBPU, Border Scouts and a Special Team from 10th Rangers. I'm 7th standing from the left.