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Vernon L. Porritt. Operation Hammer: Enforced Resettlement in Sarawak in 1965.

Special Issue, 2000, Hull: University of Hull, Centre for South-East Asian Studies. 1 x plus 160 pages, 16 plates in black and white, two maps, 12 Appendices and index. Price: 10 [pounds sterling], plus postage, UK = 2 [pounds sterling]; Overseas = 4.50 [pounds sterling].

This study is yet another of the author's valuable contributions to documenting the history, and indeed, political geography, of Sarawak. It is an academic and unbiased description of a mass relocation, or resettlement, of about 7, 600 ethnic Chinese living in the vicinity of the Kuching-to-Serian Road in 1965. Sarawak in the mid-1960s was in a period of strained relations with the federal government (in Kuala Lumpur), military pressure from Indonesia, and internal subversion from the local communist organization.

The study is thorough and is supported with extensive footnotes, bibliography, a useful index, illustrations, maps, and most importantly, a collection of official primary documents contained in 12 Appendices. This well-researched and easy-to-read book describes a moment in time which many consider was a pivotal point in the anticommunist campaign in Sarawak. The campaign was code-named "Operation Hammer," hence the title of the book.

The official aims of the campaign were to paralyze the working effectiveness of the communist movement in Sarawak, restore public confidence, and secure cooperation in exposing that organization. Furthermore, it was to act as a deterrent to any terrorist activity in that country and perhaps in neighboring Brunei and Sabah. However, the official objective was the protection of the Chinese families--smallholders--living along a stretch of a major road. The resettlement program was initiated because of the perceived threat of communist insurgency in Sarawak.

The book contains nine chapters. The first sets the geographical scene and presents an overview and profile of the population of Sarawak in 1965, a period when that country was two years into a sister state relationship within the Federation of Malaysia. An examination of the privileges given to the Malays and native (indigenous) peoples of Sarawak by Article 153 of the Constitution of Sarawak and the Constitution of Malaysia is undertaken in the second chapter. Examples of these privileges include, among others, the reservation of a "reasonable" proportion of employment, scholarships, education and training, business licenses and other privileges for the natives of Sarawak. The aim of this legislation was to prevent the Malays and other "natives" from being overwhelmed by non-native racial groups, particularly the Chinese, who dominated the professions and controlled much of the economy.

Malayan Chinese had earlier expressed concerns of losing their ethnic identity, especially when the British administrators proposed a union of Malay States and the settlement of Malacca and Penang. The concept of communalism in Sarawak prior to federation, an overview of the problems perceived by Singapore in relation to a merger of that country with Malaysia, and the geopolitics in Sarawak are discussed in the third chapter.

Communist activity in Malaya was first recorded in 1934 and continued long after the cessation of World War II--the Malayan Communist Party was undoubtedly the best organized and a very powerful political force. The emergency period--1948 to 1960--witnessed the repatriation of some 10,000 Chinese to China, and nearly half-a-million rural Chinese were resettled in hundreds of "new villages." Communism and communist aims in Sarawak are analyzed in Chapter Four.

A brief outline of the formation of the Federation of Malaysia and the issues and problems associated with and opposition to, both from within and externally, this political merger are presented in Chapter Five. Porritt records the Brunei Rebellion in which two groups from Sarawak took part; the Brunei Referendum, which rejected the proposal of a merger within a larger Malaysia; and opposition in Singapore to joining in the formation of the Federation. External opposition came from the Philippines and Indonesia, the latter demonstrating more militancy in the form of konfrontasi (confrontation) beginning in 1963.

Chapter Six describes the defense of Sarawak during the period of konfrontasi, when the role of the Sarawak CCO (Clandestine Communist Organization) militants was of grave concern to the government of the State. The Malaysian administrators called on the British government to provide external defense in accordance with the Anglo-Malayan Defence Agreement of 1957. Increased government vigilance over internal security became apparent after the insurrections in parts of the Fourth and Fifth Divisions of Sarawak. The CCO was allegedly preparing to take up arms; Chinese smallholders had over 8,500 licensed shotguns. Military assistance--40 Commandos and 2/10th Gurkha Regiment were brought in from Singapore--to help the local police collect these shotguns as roadblocks were established along the Kuching-to-Serian Road.

The Goodsir Resettlement Plan for Sarawak was intended to deprive insurgents of supplies and intelligence by severing all contact between the insurgents and the local community. The initial plan was to resettle all Chinese in areas along the Kuching-to-Simangang Road, and at six other locations. Chapters Seven and Eight describe the events of the enforced resettlement plan and the politics of this plan are analyzed in the final chapter. These chapters, together with the text of the official documents (to be found in the Appendices), make very interesting reading.

The military threat from Indonesian forces along the Kalimantar/Sarawak boundary was reduced dramatically after the failed coup in Jakarta in September 1965. The author concludes that Operation Hammer saved many of the Chinese people in the area from becoming embroiled in the communist struggle. The reader will decide whether the Operation had a significant impact on the government's fight against communism. (Dr. Vivian L Forbes, Adjunct Associate Professor, Curtin University, and Map Curator, the University of Western Australia).
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Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 2, 2002
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