PEOPLE’S UNITY DEFEATED THE COMMUNISTS, SAYS RETIRED COP
People rallied to the cause of a multiracial independent nation, says retired cop
THE nation could have lost in the bloody conflict of the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960), but unity among the people ultimately contained and defeated the insurrection.
Retired police superintendent Datuk R. Thambipillay said the political unrest and violence wrought upon the country by the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) produced a sense of common purpose among the people.
Thambipillay, who joined the police force at the onset of the insurgency in August 1949, said the CPM had tried to divide the people through industrial strikes, violence and disharmony among workers in the rubber estates and tin mines.
“The CPM paralysed these industries, which had been the nation’s primary exports and were important to imperial Britain’s recovery after the end of the Second World War.
“When the Emergency broke out, the CPM, which was predominantly Chinese, injured and killed innocent civilians who refused to aid them or be part of the Min Yuen,” he told the New Straits Times.
The Min Yuen (Mass Organisation) was a civilian organisation, which supported the CPM by collecting supplies and information, and was especially active in Chinese squatter areas.
The acts of terror, including derailing trains, cutting phone lines, acid attacks and killing pregnant women, backfired and undermined the appeal of the CPM in the eyes of the people.
It helped public opinion to coalesce around one idea: to unite for a prosperous and independent multiracial nation.
“Whether you were Malay, Chinese or Indian, people felt that they were all in the same boat.
“Our patriotism was mobilised by the prospect of a fair chance to live fruitful and comfortable lives in this country, under a firm rule of law and steady progress towards independence,” he said.
The nation also prevailed at the end of the day because the people overcame their initial mistrust of the government and started to work with the security forces to form an effective, unified civil-military command structure.
Thambipillay said it was not easy to gain the people’s trust, in part due to the mistakes in early years such as the counter-guerilla strategy of coercion and enforcement, which led to civilian suffering. In short, the government’s response appeared to be inadequate and confused, and it looked as though they were losing.
The difficulties endured by civilians caused them to view the security forces with distrust.
“There was a particular incident in which the security forces were accused of stealing livestock from villagers, which caused an uproar,” he said.
“The Communist terrorists (CTs) worsened the situation by distributing pamphlets which alleged that the security forces had committed the theft during the curfew hours. The security forces were vindicated when CTs were caught stealing ducks and chickens,” he recalled.
Another factor that contributed to the eventual victory was the government’s political, social and economic measures, including the mass resettlement of squatters, which won the people’s hearts and minds.
When the Malayan government declared that the Emergency was over at the end of July 1960, the CPM continued its armed struggle to overthrow the government. The CPM only laid down its arms after signing the Peace Agreement of Hat Yai in 1989, which marked the end of the Communist insurgency.
The police played a vital part in the struggle and paid heavily for it. They suffered more casualties than the other security forces.
Thambipillay started his career in the Gemas Police District where he met the famed former Special Branch senior officer Tan
Sri Yuen Yuet Leng, who was a trainee teacher. It was Thambipillay who suggested that Yuen join the force as the latter was very keen to become a policeman and later served most of his life in the Special Branch.
In the early 1970s, Thambipillay, who was Police Field Force assistant superintendent, helped to implement the Danger Belt Scheme in the communist hotbed of Sibu, Sarawak.
Rubber tree logs were used to barricade villages so that villagers could carry out their chores safely, including going into the rubber plantations to work. Beyond the danger belt, security forces carried out “seekand-kill” missions against the CTs.
In time, the people regained confidence in the security forces. Military success was achieved and as the terrorists were denied support from the people, they were forced to abandon their operational areas.
“The success gave me the opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of the villagers, and emphasised to community leaders the benefits of the scheme,” Thambipillay said.
At the time, he was serving in the Rajang Area Security Command, the precursor to the Eastern Sabah Security Command. For his contributions, he became the first non-Sarawakian to receive the Ahli Bintang Sarawak award in 1973 for fighting the Communist insurgency in the state.
He saw action against the enemy in 12 major operations in the jungle with the Police Field Force, including operations in the Betong salient at the MalaysianThai border. He went on to serve as assistant officer-in-charge-ofpolice-district (OCPD) in Kuala Kubu Baru and as OCPD in Tapah and Slim River/Tanjung Malim before retiring as Perak Criminal Investigation Department chief in the 1990s.
Datuk R. Thambipillay with a copy of ‘The Last Post’, in which he wrote about the Malayan Emergency.