Monday, 25 November 2013


By M Hanif Ismail

(Map of the Montagnards in Vietnam. Noone's team of Senoi Praaq operated somewhere around An Khe and Pleiku. 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, or “War People”, started as a special project under the British during the First Emergency (1948 – 1960), to replace the British SAS squadrons in the fight against communist terrorists. The unit proved its mettle during the First Emergency and the British was keen to maintain and even promote this capability in the fight to contain communism in Southeast Asia.   

This article with briefly look at the activities of the unit from the end of the First Emergency in 1960 to its role in maintaining the peace today.

1960 – First Emergency was officially declared over. However, this cessation of hostility does not mean it was the end for a specialized unit like Senoi Praaq.

1960 – a squadron of Senoi Praaq was moved to the Thai – Malaysian border. Their mission was to win back the support of around 3,000 aborigines living in the area and to hunt down the communist terrorist group led by Soo Ah Chye, a district committee member, who spoke fluent Temiar.

1961 – at this time the Senoi Praaq was composed of 3 squadrons plus a headquarters squadron.

1963 – a small group of Senoi Praaq including R.O.D. Noone was sent to An Khe, Vietnam due to a request made by the President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem in 1960. This small group of Senoi Praaq helped in establishing the Montagnard Scouts. This mission to Vietnam was also known as the “Noone Mission”. The program to train the Montagnard Scouts was handled under US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Mountain Scout Program (MSP) working with British Advisory Mission (BRIAM).

Noone, an anthropologist by training, found that one of the local tribes in Malaya was related to the Montagnard tribes of the Vietnam’s central highlands. Due to this, the training of the Montagnard went smoothly with minimal linguistic or cultural barriers.

However, the Vietnamese Special Forces A-team attached to Noone’s team was not very pleased with this closeness between the Noone’s team and the Bahnar Montagnards, as the Vietnamese had traditionally regarded the Montagnards as an inferior people, calling them “moi” or savages, and begrudging them their tribal lands. Not until 1966 did the Vietnamese, in their desire to bring the tribes under government control, begin to refer to the Montagnards as Dong Bao Throng, “compatriots of the highlands.”

Due to this intense animosity between the Vietnamese Special Forces team and Noone’s team, Noone requested for his team’s removal from Vietnam. The Senoi Praaq team withdrew at the end of the year when the Konfrontasi with Indonesia began. At around the same time President Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated.

1963 – the Senoi Praaq took part in the formal declaration of Malaysia ceremonies held at Merdeka Stadium.

1963 – start of the Indonesian – Malaysian Confrontation (Konfrontasi). The British again tried to use the same “hearts and minds” approach with the establishment of the Borneo Border Scouts, modelled on the Senoi Praaq. The responsibility to train the Scouts fell to the British SAS and the Gurkhas, although the SAS later left training matters solely to the Gurkhas to focus on operational matters.

After the Battle of Long Jawai, which exposed weaknesses in the Borneo Border Scouts project, R.O.D. Noone and his deputy were tasked to establish the Sabah Border Scouts.

1963 – the Senoi Praaq was involved in EXERCISE KURA KURA, a large-scale joint exercise held in Paka, Terengganu. Also involved in the exercise was 1st and 6th Royal Malay Regiment, 2nd Federation Reconnaissance Corps, 1st Federation Artillery and the Royal Malaysia Air Force. The joint exercise was the largest exercise ever held by the Malaysian Armed Forces at the time.   

1964 – Sabah Border Scouts was established. This unit was mainly composed on Murut tribesmen. The scouts and trackers from Border Scouts unit were used as lead in the majority of the across-the-border operations by British forces under the code name CLARET.    

1963 – the Senoi Praaq was deployed to Pontian, Johor and Singapore. There they were involved in operations against Tentera Nasional Malaya and Indonesian regulars.

1964 – South Vietnam’s Minister of Defence, Major General Tran Thiem Khiem visited Kuala Lumpur and made a request for the Malaysia Government to send the Senoi Praaq again to help track down Viet Cong guerrillas. The first Senoi Praaq team sent to Vietnam was withdrawn in December 1963.    

1965 – at the end of this year, the unit was composed of 4 squadrons with a total of 399 men.

1966 – Konfrontasi was declared over

Part 3 will look at the activities of the Senoi Praaq after the end of Konfrontasi, including its switch from under the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to the Royal Malaysian Police.

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