Saturday, 23 November 2013


By M Hanif Ismail

(The Senoi Praaq with New Zealand's soldiers during the First Emergency. Source: Internet)

Senoi Praaq – the name may sounds familiar to the local defence watchers, but outside that (small) circle, its mention may very well draw a blank.

Senoi Praaq means “War people” or “those who fight” in the Semai language. It currently refers to 2 battalions of the General Operations Force (GOF) under the Royal Malaysian Police, the 3rd and the 18th Battalion based in Bidor, Perak and Pengkalan Hulu,Perak, respectively. What sets it apart is that the members are almost exclusively made up of Orang Asli, or the indigenous people of Peninsula Malaysia.

Senoi Praaq started as a special project under the British during the First Emergency (1948 – 1960), to replace the UK SAS squadrons leaving the country. This article with briefly look at the activities of the unit from its formation in 1957 to its role in maintaining the peace today.

1953 – Special Operation Volunteer Force (SOVF) was developed by the Special Branch. This unit was composed of surrendered enemy personnel (SEP) and selected volunteers, with a total strength of 12 platoons. They went back into the jungle to persuade their former comrades to surrender, or kill them. A veteran of this unit, Edmund Colin Ritson Dewsnup (later Mohammed Ruslan Bin Abdullah Iskandar), would later play a big role in the development of Senoi Praaq.

1954 – General Gerald Templer, High Commissioner of Malaya, proposed to the War Office to send a second SAS squadron to be sent to Malaya to fight the communist terrorists. However, his request was turned down by the London-based Director of Operations. 

1955 – start of the induction training for the initial 10 men from Temiar tribe and former Asal members (surrendered enemy personnel or SEP). These were attached to D Squadron, SAS for their basic training. These recruits would later form the nucleus of the Senoi Praaq.

1956 – General Templer approved the formation of Senoi Praaq under the Department of Aborigines (DOA). R.O.D. Noone, a member of the British Administration in Malaya, had been pressing for the formation of Senoi Praaq to stop the communist terrorists from using the Orang Asli as their surrogate force in the form of Asal organization. The communist terrorists used Asal as scout and foragers, as well as combatants, leveraging on their expertise in the jungle survival and jungle tracking.  The Senoi Praaq project therefore essentially brought two advantages to the British, harnessing the support and expertise of the Orang Asli in the fight against the communist terrorists, and denying the same for the communist terrorists. 

The DOA itself was a "hearts and minds" project by the British to turn Orang Asli against the communist terrorists, and the Senoi Praaq can be considered its combat and intelligence arm.

A number of the initial members of the Senoi Praaq were former Asal members. They were trained by the SAS and organized in about the same way, with a squadron consisting of four troops.    

A note on R.O.D. Noone. He took his degree of anthropology at Cambridge and was formerly attached to the Australian Director of Military Intelligence after World War II (holding the rank of Major in the British Army). He had studied the various people of Malaya prior to the War under the auspices of the Museum of Ethnology at Cambridge. 

Apart from Malaya, he was also requested by the Governments of South Vietnam and Laos to assist in winning over the support of their aborigines in fighting the communists terrorists, essentially replicating what the British had done here. R.O.D. Noone would later be posted to Thailand under SEATO where he passed away in 1973.

1957 – Malaya achieved independence. Senoi Praaq grew to 2 squadrons. R.O.D. Noone was the commanding officer of the unit until 1961.

1958 – By this year, the Senoi Praaq already had the highest kills on records among any security forces in Malaya.

1959 – 1960 – Senoi Praaq’s kill ratio stood at 16 to 1, 16 killed or wounded enemy personnel to 1 Senoi Praaq member. The communist terrorists were of course very much aware of the grave threat posed by the unit by then, and in many encounters chose to withdraw rather than continue to engage. 

In was interesting to note that apart from hunting the communist terrorists in the jungle, the Senoi Praaq also worked closely with the Special Branch in collecting intelligence from the Orang Asli

This was despite them still being under the DOA at the time. This close cooperation, among others, led to the formation of a third squadron, with each able to operate independently. 

1960 – First Emergency was officially declared over.

Part 2 will look at the activities of the Senoi Praaq after the end of the First Emergency, including its secret mission to Vietnam.

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