Sunday, 28 March 2010

Dead Iban Warriors to go home

Below is a nice write up by BERNAMA on the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers - a follow up on my interview with them in KL on 24 March 2010. Dead Iban Warriors to go home

KUALA LUMPUR: When the remains of 21 Iban warriors make their final journey home to Sarawak sometime this year, one of the country's most highly decorated soldiers is likely to weep with relief.

For the past 20 months, retired Lt Kol Robert Rizal Abdullah has been on an emotional mission - ever since he read the plea of a Sarawakian woman who saw a blog about the grave of an Iban tracker being at a roadside in Alor Setar.

"My heart bled when I saw the picture. I vowed to take the matter up to the highest authority. It became my mission," Robert Rizal wrote in his own blog (http://pgbwarrior/

The task was code-named Ops Ngerapuh - an Iban word which means ‘moving the remains of the dead’.

In an interview with Bernama, Robert Rizal, 61, said that, for a while, Ops Ngerapuh appeared to have stalled.

"But it is moving now. I am confident that this will be done by this year, we are trying by September, but it will be this year," said the retired soldier who is working with the defence ministry and the Sarawak Government on this. "A site has been identified in Kuching but I also heard that there are some bidders for the land because it is in a prime area," he said.

The 15.4 acre (6.2 hectare) plot of government land is located in Kota Sentosa, amid several army camps at the 7th mile of the Kuching-Serian road.

Robert Rizal was formerly Robert Madang Langi, an Iban warrior himself who received the Panglima Gagah Berani medal, the nation's second highest military gallantry award, after a courageous attack on communist terrorists in 1973 in Sarawak during his 25 years in uniform.

Ops Ngerapuh went firmly on track after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak pledged last month to send home the remains of the warriors, who were trackers and rangers recruited by the British colonial forces.

Robert Rizal said the prime minister was informed of it by Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu during his visit to Kuching.

"Once the land is confirmed by the state government, a memorial will be built and, after that, the exhumations can be done easily," he said.

Robert Rizal said that, of the 21 who were all killed in action between 1951 and 1963, when the country first declared emergency to fight communist guerillas, only the remains of 12 were known. The whereabouts of the rest are unknown.

Four are buried at the Batu Gajah Christian cemetery, two in the Kamunting Road Christian cemetery in Taiping, another four at the Cheras Christian cemetery in Kuala Lumpur while two are interred at the Kranji Military Cemetery in Singapore.

"The names of eight are etched at the Terendak Military Camp in Malacca.

“It is the gravestone of Ungkok anak Jugam that is by the roadside in Alor Star and triggered this," said Robert Rizal.

Ungkok's gravestone was moved to the side of the road at KM4, Jalan Langgar, Alor Setar, when a dual highway was built more than a decade ago.

Robert Rizal said the gravestone was moved to the St Michael's Catholic Church cemetery, also in Alor Setar last April, and despite scanning a 100m radius, there were no bones detected in the vicinity of the original site.

He said that, so far, contact had been made with the next-of-kin of 18 of the deceased except for three - Private Empati anak Dugu, Private Letan anak Kusing and Border Scout Utot anak Tangang.

Discussions would be held with the families on how their warrior heroes would be re-buried.

"Some of the families have converted to Islam, there are some who are Christians and some still pagans. We will follow their wishes," said Robert Rizal.

Traditional Ibans use the 'miring' ceremony to ward off bad spirits and bad luck and such a ceremony was performed when Ungkok's gravestone was shifted.

"I am doing this for the future generations of Ibans so that the sacrifices of their forefathers and what they had done is remembered and is handed down as a legacy for young Ibans," said Robert Rizal, who has four grandchildren.

He resides in Taiping with his wife, Raja Noriah Raja Shahrome, a great grand-daughter of Sultan Abdullah who once ruled Perak. - Bernama

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Plights of Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers

Unau ak. Sauh (FF 1386) was one of the last intakes of Iban Trackers sent to Malaya in 1952 to help the Commonwealth Forces fight the Communist Insurgency. He was in the same platoon with the famous Corperal Menggong ak Panggit who was awarded a George Medal (a civilian equivalent of a PGB) by King George V for his feat in attacking a CT camp. His British platoon commander was killed in the attack and he had to assume command of the platoon.

Soon after his training in Port Dickson, he and his comrades were attached to a British Battalion and were involved in Search and Destroy operations to eliminate the communist terrorists in Johor, which included freeing the town of Labis from their clutch.

The Iban Trackers had been a success. On 1 January 1953, they were reformed into two experimental platoons of Sarawak Rangers (Malayan Unit) – to give them a full military status. They continued to serve in the front line as trackers with the various Commonwealth Forces. On 31 March 1960, Sarawak Rangers (Malayan Unit) was disbanded and reformed into Sarawak Rangers (Far East Land Forces) to become a part of the British Army. Like the Gurkhas, they could now be sent to any war theatre anywhere in the world. On 15 September 1963, however, they were disbanded. On 16 September 1963, in conjunction with Malaysia Day, they were reformed into the modern-day 1st Battalion The Malaysian Rangers.

Tracker Unau went on to serve in Malaya for 8 years. Finally, in 1959, after many encounters and battles he had had enough and returned to Sarawak.

Unable to simply watch the communist insurgency in Sarawak, he joined the Police in 1972 as a Border Scout. Similar to what he had done in Malaya, he also played a key role in helping infantry units in tracking down terrorists.

Finally on 31 December 1988, at the age of 55, he called it a day and retired. Unau had been at the front line for 25 hot years. Sad to say, he was not given any pensions. It was a slap in the face – his sacrifices and services had not been recognised. In 1998, he moved to live with his children in Johore Bharu. A year later in 1999, his whole family embraced Islam. He adopted a muslim name Abdul Rahman Unau Bin Abdullah.

There are many ex-Trackers and Sarawak Rangers who are living similar lives as Tracker Unau. Seemingly, their services and sacrifices are not recognised. Those who are still alive today are living on meager allowances paid out by the Veterans Department. It defies my logic that fighters like Unau are not eligible for a pension, even though he had given the prime of his life to the nation. For the few who are still alive, can’t we appreciate they had done? Give them some form of pensions / monetary aid or whatever you may want to call it. After all, they have very little years left to see the daylight on this planet. Let them be happy and in the knowledge that the services they had rendered to the nation is well remembered and appreciated.

Tracker Unau in his heyday as a young Tracker in Malaya in 1952
Abdul Rahman Unau Bin Abdullah as he is today
Penghulu Jinggut (2nd from right) together with Malcom McDonald, Temenggong Jugah and Penghulu Sibat
Datuk Temenggong Jinggot ak Penghulu Atan today. He was one of the earliest Trackers to be sent to Malaya in 1948.
Tracker Maja with Sgt George Swetman of 1st Bn The Manchester Regiment.

Monday, 8 March 2010

My New Toy - Nikon D90

I had always been fascinated by photography. It is an interestt I had picked up when I was schooling in Tanjong Lobang School, Miri, Sarawak in the 60s. I was a member of the School's Photography Club. I didn't own a camera but I knew how to develop films and pictures in the Dark Room. When I was undergoing my two years of military cadet training in the Royal Military College, Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur from 1967 to 1969, I bought my first expensive camera for RM300, payable in 12 instalments. Through out the years when I was serving in the Malaysian Rangers, I seemed to have bought one camera after another as they didn't last long due to rust or damage or even lost. Somehow, too, the quality of the pictures were much to be desired. But then, the cost of a good camera was way beyond my means. Seeing people lugging huge cameras with huge lenses were something that I could only dream of. However, dreams do become a reality sometimes. For me the purchase of a Nikon D90 two weeks ago is a dream come true. My biggest regret, however, was, it should have been bought when I was scouring the Malaysian jungles for Communist Terrorists from 1969 to 1987. Words cannot describe the many scenes that were hidden away from man's eyes. They were fantastic and they were lost forever. That was my biggest regret.
Nikon D 90
Samples of pictures I took with the Nikon D 90

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Ops Ngerapuh Picking Up Speed

Following the PM's visit to Sarawak's rural areas on 23 February 2010 where he made the pledge to help bring back the remains of the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers who were KIA and buried throughout the Peninsula and Singapore, things started to move quickly. Presumably, the words / instructions had gone down to the Defence Minister, then to the Chief of the Armed Forces, then down to the Army Chief. Finally, it went down to the Malaysian Rangers Corp Chairman, Brig Gen Dato' Zulkifli. When I received a sms from the Commanding Officer 9 Rangers on 1 March 2010, informing me that Gen Zulkifli wanted to know more on Ops Ngerapuh, I was actually in KL attending a business seminar. Anyway, I made an appointment to see and brief him on Ops Ngerapuh on 2 March 2010.
I was briefing Brig General Dato' Zulkifli
Then, on 3 March 2010, I was informed by Major Monday Juhid, Director of the Veterans Affairs, Sarawak Branch, who happened to be one of my committee members in Kuching that the Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Dr Alfred Jabu ak. Numpang wanted to convene a meeting to discuss on Ops Ngerapuh on 5 March 2010. Amongst those who attended were representatives from the Prime Minister's Department, the Army, Sarawak Museum, Land and Survey Sarawak and some members of my original committee. I flew down to Kuching on 4 March and was shocked to find out that a last-minute booking of Air Asia was 3 or 4 times more expensive than usual. There will be more meetings in Kuching which I have got to attend. As this is purely voluntary, I had been using my own expenses. Now that the frequency of meetings are expected to increase, I definitely need some financial support from the Government of Sarawak. I have whispered this to DCM's political secretary but will follow up with a letter the next few days.
The conference chaired by the DCM, Tan Sri Alfred Jabu. I am seated on his right.
The coverage in the Borneo Post the next day.