Bazaars’ role in combating CT threats in Sarawak

Siburan Bazaar one of the four settlements in Sarawak established during the communist insurgency and the Indonesian confrontation. Photo: Bernama

The sight of three bazaars located on the way from the bustling capital city of Kuching out to the semi-urban Serian would raise the curiosity of first time travellers along the highway of how they had been established.

Signage depicting the small settlements of Siburan, Beratok and Tapah erected along part of the Pan Borneo Highway would definitely catch their eyes, but the development that took place in these bazaars over the years since independence would fail to get them to notice the history behind the existence of these places.

It all started nearly 60 years ago when Sarawak was still in its infant age of independence and had just overcame the threat by neighbouring Indonesia’s Confrontation move which aimed to deny the formation of Malaysia back in 1963.

The security threat had not ended there as the state eventually had to endure the menacing guerilla groups who tried to spread communism in Sarawak by tactically targeting the scattered sparse settlements located away from the main towns.

The communist insurgent (CT) threats had not gone down unnoticed by the newly-minted Sarawak government as they came up with a strategy that eventually formed part of the state’s development decades later.

Australian historian Vernon Porrit in his book on ‘Rise and Fall of Communism in Sarawak’ wrote that it was on June 30, 1965, that the Sarawak government’s Operations Sub-Committee of the State Security Executive Council (Ops SSEC) implemented the Goodsir Plan.

The Goodsir Plan, named after David Goodsir, the British acting commissioner of police in Sarawak, was among the several counter-insurgency operations in response to the Sarawak Communist Organisation’s activities during the communist insurgency and the Indonesian Confrontation.

Porrit further jotted that this plan involved the resettlement of 7,500 people in five “temporary settlements” along the Kuching-Serian road in Kuching, which was then known as First Division, as well as in Sibu which was known as Third Division.

By the end of 1965, he said 63 suspected communist activists had been identified by the authorities and during the period, the three permanent settlements of Siburan, Beratok and Tapah were built to replace the five temporary settlements, which covered 600 acres and designed to accommodate 8,000 inhabitants.

Sidi Munan, 85, had firsthand information on the establishment of the settlements as it happened during the time when he served as a private secretary to the then Minister for Sarawak Affairs Tun Jugah Barieng, who was one of the state founding fathers in the early years of Malaysia’s formation.

Sidi said these settlements were protected by double barbed wire all around and modelled after the successful ‘New Village’ concept applied earlier during the Malayan Emergency as a strategy to neutralise threats from communist insurgents.

He said for the Goodsir Plan in Sarawak executed under Operation Hammer, scattered residents were regrouped to Siburan, Bratok and Tapah, which served as ‘controlled areas’ and succeeded in denying the insurgents access to food supplies, basic materials and vital intelligences.

“The whole idea was to stop the local people from providing any kind of support to the communists. Night curfews were enforced to bar anyone from entering or leaving the villages, while their residents were checked by security forces before they left the places during the day,” he told Bernama. 

The inspection was necessary, he said, to ensure that they were not bringing out food or any essential supply that could be meant for the insurgents.

Sidi, who was actively involved in the publications and distribution of anti-communist information materials to the local people at that time, said those who were regrouped at the settlements were given plots of land and houses were built for them.

There were a number of attempts by the communist insurgents to terrorise these new settlements and one of them was on the Siburan Police Station, which killed a 35-year-old sergeant, Simon Peter Ningkan, who happened to be the brother of Sarawak’s first Chief Minister Tan Sri Stephen Kalong Ningkan.

The strategy — ironically inspired by the then China Communist Party chairman Mao Tse-tung’s words that ‘human beings are like fish, you take away the water and the fish will die’ — was found to be effective in weakening the insurgency as they were cut off from getting the essentials for their survival.

Sidi said the history leading to the establishment of the settlements should be made known, especially to the new generation in the country, so that they would understand the predicament faced in the early years of Malaysia’s formation and to appreciate the peace and harmony that they enjoyed now.

Sarawak, being a very big part of Malaysia savoured progress ever since independence in 1963, the Siburan, Beratok and Tapah were also sharing the prosperity to become satellite commercial centres, gradually shedding their old images but remaining significant to the state history. – Bernama

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