PETALING JAYA: Dozens of their members were tortured, maimed and killed by Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) insurgents. Yet, an equal number were eager to join the elite VAT 69 Police Field Force commandos at the height of the insurgency from the 1970s through the ’80s.
Such was their burning desire to serve the nation and protect its sovereignty that it even stumped now-retired senior assistant commissioner Navaratnam Appadurai.
Navaratnam, who held the rank of VAT 69 first commander for 14 years, led his charges to 35 communist terrorist kills – with 50 others captured – in the deep jungles of the country.
“We were never short of recruits. They were my ‘dynamites’, so to speak. Their display of determination, courage and valour was immeasurable, and their services for king and country were priceless,” he said during his 90th birthday bash in Subang Jaya, Selangor, on Saturday.
In attendance were family members including his cousin, ex-armed forces health services division director-general Major-General (Rtd) Dr R Mohanadas; Navaratnam’s retired comrades; and former Penang police chief commissioner (Rtd) A Thaiveegan.
Navaratnam recalled the harsh conditions during the insurgency, saying: “Not only were we constantly under threat of the enemy, but we also had to endure risks posed by deadly insects, animals, booby traps, terrain, and the jungle environment.”
Nevertheless, “I am glad to have been part of this unit which played its role, along with the armed forces, leading to the CPM laying down their arms for the Hatyai Peace Accord on Dec 2, 1989 in Songkhla, Thailand”.
‘Very Able Troopers’
After his stint as VAT 69 commander, Navaratnam was appointed to head the counterterrorism’s special action unit as an assistant commissioner for three years until 1986.
He retired after 32 years of service on July 7, 1988 – his 55th birthday – as a “one-star” senior assistant commissioner, after commanding the General Operations Force’s (GOF) Pahang-based southeast brigade that oversaw six infantry battalions.
Navaratnam was conferred a datukship by the King in 2012, some 24 years after his retirement.
In 1954, Navaratnam was a schoolteacher who decided to join the police the following year. He soon became an investigating officer and then a training instructor, but “I was craving for action as a field operative”.
He got the chance to do so during the Confrontation with Indonesia in 1965: “I served one year with the Sarawak constabulary, alongside the Gurkha Rifles regiment, learning a lot about jungle warfare along the Sarawak-Kalimantan border with Indonesia.”
His big break came when the British Special Air Services (SAS) regiment established a squadron for special assignments and deep-jungle operations. Navaratnam – in his capacity as chief instructor for the GOF’s training school in Ulu Kinta, Perak – was tasked with selecting the best out of 200 applicants.
In 1970, Navaratnam was made the first squadron commander of the VAT 69 – so-called for “Very Able Troopers” established in 1969 – and, eight years later, was promoted to commanding officer as a superintendent.
‘Cloaked in secrecy’
In 1983, Navaratnam was tasked with establishing the Special Action Force, or UTK, as a first commander (assistant commissioner). “Like VAT 69, the UTK’s existence was cloaked in secrecy and our movements strictly undercover. This was to safeguard the interests of its members and their families,” he shared.
“Our team members operated as a close-knit family and we were tasked with dangerous missions including armed robberies, kidnapping, hijacking, and other crimes. Some of our members were also involved in providing dignitary protection.”
Other major tasks undertaken by VAT 69 during his time were the 1985 siege by Islamic extremists in Kampung Memali, Baling in Kedah; and the hostage dramas at Pudu prison in Kuala Lumpur in 1986 and in Kuantan, Pahang, a year later.
Both the VAT 69 and UTK have since been merged to become the Special Operations Command.
Also on Saturday, Navaranam – who has penned one book, “The Spear and the Kerambit: The Exploits of VAT 69, Malaysia’s Elite Fighting Force (1968-1989)” – pointed out that he was saddened by media reports concerning racial and religious tensions today.
“Many have forgotten how the security forces gave life and limb for the peace and prosperity of our beloved nation,” he said. “During my time, there was not a tinge of race or religious discord when fighting a common enemy. We were all one, irrespective of race, colour or creed.
“I hope peace and stability will prevail,” he concluded, “and that the younger generation will continue to preserve this harmony, which I and the security-forces members fought to achieve.”