'Emergency' dragged on for 12 years

21:54, Apr 22 2012
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Kiwi soldiers duck for cover during an ambush in Malaya.

The origins of the conflicts in Malaya and Borneo began in World War II.

During the war, Japan occupied areas that were once under French, Dutch, British and United States rule such as Indochina, Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The realisation the colonial powers could be defeated fuelled nationalism in these areas and the Japanese capitulation in August, 1945, heralded a reluctance to return to their pre-war, colonial situation.

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After the war, nationalism often combined with socialism and communism to resist and actively confront the re-establishment of former colonial powers.

The Malayan Emergency began in 1948 and would drag on for 12 years as the militant arm of the Malayan Communist Party sought to take over.

Led by Chin Peng, a determined anti-colonialist, the Chinese Malayan force turned against the power it had stood alongside to battle the Japanese the British.

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Had the communist forces who sparked the conflict won, Malaya would have become a Communist republic, tied to China.

The British never admitted it was war. The enemy was not recognised as an army, despite their uniform, instead they were called terrorists, guerillas or insurgents.

The conflict was labelled a Malayan police operation, backed by Commonwealth soldiers including up to 30,000 Kiwis.

This suited the British owners of Malaya's rubber plantations and tin mines, who were insured for losses through theft, but not for losses incurred in wartime.

In contrast the the Communist Party of Malaya spent those 12 years struggling to win what they called the "Anti-British War''.

No sooner was the Malayan peninsula clear of guerrillas, when a second conflict blew up, this one a more conventional territorial clash between newly independent states. At that time, Borneo was divided into four statelets. One was the kingdom of Brunei, one became a province of Indonesia, and as the other two Sarawak and Sabah approached independence, the United Kingdom proposed that they join the Malayan Federation in what was to become Malaysia.

Indonesia's President Sukarno objected, and war began in the jungles of Borneo.

The Southland Times