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ESSCOM: Learning from Sarawak's experience

SIBU, March 17 (Bernama) -- In early 1972, the communist threat in Sarawak, especially in its central regions (Sibu, Kapit, Sarikei, Mukah and Bintulu), was fast approaching breaking point.

The estimated 500 militant communist terrorists from the Northern Kalimantan People's Party (Party Rakyat Kalimanatan Utara or PARAKU) not only laid ambushes on the security forces but were intimidating, harassing and killing innocent civilians at will. Curfews which at times were round the clock, were the order then.

The worsening situation forced the government under the leadership of the then prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein to declare the central region a "Special Security Area" which happened on March 25, 1972. This was to allow its machinery to be fully geared and mobilised with the imperative aim of maintaining public security and safety.

A day later RASCOM or the Rajang Security Command was formed.

"It was a bold experiment. For the first time in Sarawak and in the country, a joint Civil, Police and Military establishment was formed. It was to allow policising and decisions to be made and executed fast and efficiently, particularly where their coordinated services were necessary," wrote one of its chief executive officers, the late Ignatius Angking

RASCOM was then administered by the then Sarawak chief minister as its director of operations.

He coordinated and controlled the functions and activities of the security forces and all civilian departments in the RASCOM areas and was assisted by a joint Civil, Military and Police Command headquarters.

In the words of Tun Abdul Razak, he said:" Under the new set-up, the machinery of the government would be streamlined from district to divisional level.

"The civil administration, police and military will work as a team. This will ensure that whatever measures the government intends to take to counteract the CT (communist terrorist) activities would be taken by all."

Datuk Patinggi Abdul Rahman Yaakub, the then chief minister, said it was "now an established fact that in the type of war that we are fighting against the communist terrorists, guns alone are not enough."

"It is a battle for the hearts and minds. It is a battle that is fought not only by the soldiers, but by all. It is a war in which no matter what they are and where they are in Sarawak, all must play their part," said Abdul Rahman Yaakub, before he became RASCOM's first director of operations.

Immediately, new strategies and tactics to fight the CTs were formulated in parallel with civil counter-measures in an all out war.

Among the very first major measure was the resettling of folks living in long houses scattered deep in the interiors into regrouping and resettlement schemes.

This was to stop them from being harassed by the terrorists who would come to them looking for food, logistics and recruits.

Altogether, five regrouping and resettlement schemes were formed. The major ones are the Nanga Ngungun with 23 long houses and over 3,000 people, Nanga Tada (16 with 2,000 people) and Nanga Jagau (also 24 with 3,000 ) all in the Kanowit district and Nanga Sekuau (also 24 and over 6,000) in the Selangau District.

The other two are minor ones, at Nanga Dap (five with about 480) and Rantau Panjang (three and more than 300).

Basically, while the Police Special Branch and Military Intelligence Unit hunted for intelligence, the military/border scouts/police field force would hunt down the terrorists or persuade them to surrender.

The civilian component would provide medical, adult education and other social services to the settlers beside organising civic assemblies and security briefings to warn the people on the dangers of supporting the communists.

They were also engaged in monitoring people movement and food denial exercises to restrict the flow of food, medicine and other essential items to the CTs within the RASCOM areas.

RASCOM soon proved itself to be a most effective strategy in the fight against the terrorists. Its turning point came on March 4, 1974.

Under a move known as " Operation Sri Aman," some 585 terrorists in the whole state decided to come out of their jungle hideouts and surrendered, leaving some 100 hardcore remnants behind.

And on March 3,1990, about 50 of them finally chose to follow suit which finally closed the state communist insurgency problem of more than three decades.

From then on, Sarawak begun to enjoy peace and security and with federal government support focused on pursuing economic and infrastructure development progress.

Without RASCOM, which was eventually disbanded on April 6, 1995, the state would not be what it is now.

Now 41 years later, on March 7, 2013 and by sheer coincidence, the son of the man who had announced the formation of RASCOM also announced the formation of a "Special Security Area (SSA)" for Sabah's east coast.

It was later named ESSCOM or the Eastern Sabah Security Command covering a coastline of 1,400 kilometres from Kudat to Tawau.

ESSCOM came about due to the intrusion on February 12 of some 150-odd armed Sulu terrorists from the southern Philippines, who had landed in stages in traditional barter trade boats in Silabukan and Sungai Merah, close to Kampung Tanduo in Felda Sahabat 17, about 110 kilometres from Lahad Datu.

In a month since they intruded into the area, 56 of of the terrorists have been killed in gunfights.

Malaysia lost nine men, eight policemen and a soldier in the skirmishes. Another soldier died when his truck overturned while ferrying supplies to the troops.

ESSCOM will protect more than 1.4 million Sabahans via land and sea with the deployment of not less than five battalions from the armed forces and police's General Operations Force (GOF).

Its headquarters will be based in Lahad Datu and like RASCOM.

"There is much ESSCOM can learn from the RASCOM experience. ESSCOM is a step in the right direction," said Brig-Gen Datuk Stephen Mundaw, the commanding officer of the Ninth Infantry Brigade here. The brigade replaced RASCOM.

Mundaw had served in RASCOM for several years, as a young military officer where among his fellow officers is the current armed forces chief, General Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin.

Speaking to Bernama here, he said he personally believed "ESSCOM is a very excellent move and very timely as well in the light of what had happened in Sabah's east coast."

"It is in the same vein as RASCOM which was a very successful model in the fight against the communist terrorist insurgency in Sarawak.

"I am sure there is much that ESSCOM can learn from RASCOM's approach and experience since both are, firstly, security areas. ESSCOM's structure may be slightly different but many of its objectives and elements may reflect what RASCOM was all about,"he said.

"Secondly, it will be about inter-agencies co-operation and operations. It is commanded by a civilian while the military and police will do the enforcement duties.

The civilian component, to include the local authorities and the relevant state and federal agencies, can be tasked with the non-combatant but equally important community development services and the area's growth and prosperity," he added.

"What we all want is peace and stability so that development and progress can come in uninterrupted. Again, above all the country's sovereignty must be upheld at all times.

"I also personally believe in Sarawak, particularly in the Ninth Infantry Brigade areas covering all the state's central region and Miri division areas, we must not neglect its long porous border and coast which we must manage very well like in eastern Sabah. People can come in and go out any time. The Lahad Datu incident like what our prime minister had said, is a wake-up call," he said.

 

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