By YS Chan
The Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war fought between the British Commonwealth armed forces and the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) from 1948 until 1960.
I grew up in the 1950s in Pandamaran New Village, oblivious to the skirmishes that occurred mostly in the rural areas, plantations and jungles. Later, I learned a total of 450 new villages were created by the British to resettle nearly half a million people scattered in the rural areas with the aim of cutting off supplies to the insurgents.
I was again oblivious when the insurgency was renewed from 1968. In 1973, I started work as a tourist guide and a year later, the then Inspector-General of Police Abdul Rahman was shot dead by communists before his car could reach Jalan Tun Perak, at Jalan Raja Chulan which was then a one-way side lane at that stretch.
In August 1975, the communists exploded a bomb at the national monument and caused extensive damage to it. Three months later, Perak state police chief DCP Khoo Chong Kong and his driver were killed by two communist subversives in Ipoh while returning to police headquarters after lunch.
End of insurgency but not of animosity towards communists
The insurgency came to an end when a peace accord was signed by the MCP with the Malaysian government at Hatyai in December 1989. Since then, there have been no more incidents but animosity towards the communists has prevailed, especially among those who lost comrades, family members, relatives or friends.
That was why the award-winning movie “Absent Without Leave” was banned in Malaysia due to its communist overtones. The controversial documentary was directed by Sitiawan-born Lau Kek Huat and tells the story of his grandfather’s experiences during the insurgency.
In 1974, I drove the Malaysian High Commissioner to New Zealand to an office block located within the compound that is now occupied by the Malaysia Tourism Centre at Jalan Ampang, and was told it was the Psychological Warfare Section of the government.
It was headed by luminaries such as Dr Too Chee Chew, better known as CC Too. Over the years, I also read many articles about the exploits of our special branch officers.
In 2015, the country mourned the passing of Yuen Yuet Leng at age 88. He was a special branch officer active in covert operations and was wounded in two firefights, with one bullet lodged near his heart and which was never removed.
Malaysia won the war against communist insurgents, which the mighty firepower of the American military could not in Vietnam. We won through psychological warfare and the covert operations carried out by our special branch officers. They were the greatest patriots our country produced in time of crisis.
Declassfication of documents has revealed true patriots
As such, I was elated to read several articles in the Sunday Star about the existence of an F-Team within the Special Branch. Had it not been for the government declassifying top secret missions during the two-decade insurgency from 1968, the identities of these patriots would remain secret, even from their own families.
They are totally different from uncouth politicians who are fond of trumpeting their own achievements, although they have done nothing concrete to uplift their communities. The F-Team never had more than 50 personnel but achieved more success than all the security forces put together, said its founder Senior Asst Comm (Rtd) Leong Chee Who.
Its mission was to take prisoners, unlike soldiers ordered to kill and take no prisoners, which would be much easier. Amazingly, the F-Team suffered no casualties and managed to capture 171 enemy personnel, with many switching sides after being treated well by the unit.
One such person was Chong, now 81 years old. He joined the communist guerrillas at the age of 13 with a friend. Although he rose in the CPM ranks, he realised the struggle was without a purpose and took the opportunity to leave the jungle and work in odd jobs in Cambodia.
In 1965, he returned to South Thailand and surrendered to Leong Chee Who, who recruited him into the F-Team, as he had intimate knowledge of how insurgents operated in the jungle. Chong served for more than 20 years with the F-Team, which took him to operations all over peninsula Malaysia and Sarawak.
Brave acts to be remembered forever
Former chief inspector Abdul Kalam, who retired in 1996, recalled an operation at Fraser’s Hill in 1985 with astounding detail. With three other comrades, he took on more than 20 communists in the deep jungle when two marauding groups met to discuss joint forces.
He received intelligence reports of their planned gathering and arrived early to lay claymore mines at strategic spots. After 19 hours of surviving only on biscuits and water from a nearby river, he could see through his infra-red goggles that many guerrillas had arrived by 9pm.
The mines were detonated and many insurgents were shot. Later, at a debriefing, the officer-in-charge of the army’s commando unit in Rawang could not believe that only four special branch officers were involved in the operation.
Sub Insp (Rtd) S Sredaran, now 59, disguised himself by working as a labourer at the Edensor Estate in Mentakab in 1985. Just a week after starting work, he was approached by two guerrillas, and over the course of 11 months, his assistance would be sought monthly to buy food for them.
In May 1986, they asked for pork to be included, and this time an operation to capture them was planned by the headquarters. On May 10 at 8am, the insurgents arrived, including two women. One proceeded to the kitchen to cook the pork while another stood guard.
The two male guerrillas were watching television and went for their weapons when they realised they had been ambushed. The strike team members, who were hiding inside the fertiliser room, were forced to shoot them, including the woman who came out of the kitchen, while the other managed to escape.
The report gave a good account of the actions of our F-Team personnel, and put a face to these insurgents, as the hatred of many Malaysians were directed at imaginary communists.
The 20-year Vietnam War was largely fought by the Americans against the Vietcong but the United States pressured its allies to commit troops, resulting in 320,000 South Koreans, 61,000 Australians, 10,000 Filipinos and 3,800 New Zealanders serving in Vietnam.
Thailand sent a small army contingent to South Vietnam, and Malaysia provided a police team. The Vietnamese went through untold sufferings many times worse than us but have let bygones be bygones. If we cannot do that, we are the ones who will continue to suffer.
YS Chan is an FMT reader.
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