The Briggs' Plan was a military plan devised by British General Sir Harold Briggs shortly after his appointment in 1950 as Director of Operations during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960). The plan aimed to defeat the Malayan communist guerrillas by cutting them off from their sources of support amongst the rural population. To achieve this a large programme of forced resettlement of Malayan peasantry was undertaken, under which about 500,000 people (roughly ten percent of Malaya's population) were forcefully removed from their land and imprisoned in internment camps called "New Villages". During the Emergency there were over 400 of these guarded camps. Furthermore, 10,000 Malaysian Chinese people suspected of being communist sympathisers were deported to mainland China by 1949 where many were then executed. The Malayan aboriginals, the Orang Asli, were also targeted for forced relocation by the Briggs' Plan because the British believing that they were supporting the communists.
Many of the practices necessary for the Briggs' Plan were prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and customary international law which stated that the destruction of property must not happen unless rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.
British authority in Malaya's rural areas had only been tenuously reestablished following the withdrawal of Japan at the end of World War II. The British regarded a group of about 500,000 "squatters", largely of Chinese descent, who practiced small-scale agriculture, generally lacked legal title to their land, and were largely outside the reach of the colonial administration, as particularly problematic. Many of these Chinese people had been forced to live in isolated communities to avoid slaughter by the occupying Japanese.
In order to force rural workers off their land, the British military burned down rural villages, destroyed crops and killed livestock. Some villagers would later receive compensation but most would not. These communities formed the backbone of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), their armed wing the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), and their civilian supplies and intelligence network the 'Min Yuen'. Many rural workers were sympathetic to communism due to their role of the MCP as leaders of the WWII Anti-Japanese resistance movement. Other factors which led to support for the communists include; the desire for Malayan independence from Britain, the communist victory in China, the communist role in leading the Malayan trade union movement, economic inequality and poverty post-WWII and resentment towards the racism of British rule. Other rural workers who did not want to support the communist guerrillas did so anyway due to fear of backlash by their neighbours and the communist guerrillas.
By isolating this population in the "new villages", the British were able to stem the critical flow of food, information, and recruits from peasants to guerillas. The new settlements were guarded around-the-clock by police and many were partially fortified with barbed wire and sentry towers. This served the twofold purpose of preventing those who were so inclined from getting out and voluntarily aiding the guerrilla, and of preventing the guerrilla from getting in and extracting help via persuasion or intimidation. 450 new settlements were created in this process and it is estimated that 470,509 people, 400,000 of them Chinese, were involved in the program. The Malaysian Chinese Association, (known then as the Malayan Chinese Association), played a crucial role in implementing the programme.
The British also tried to win the support of some of the internees by providing them with education and health services. Some New Villages were equipped with amenities such as electricity and piped water and surrounded with perimeter fencing and armed guards to keep the civilians from escaping– many of whom had formerly been in the MCP or had been forced to provide assistance. It was hoped that by providing the largely ethnic Chinese communities with such facilities, they would be converted from "reservoirs of resentment into bastions of loyal Malayan citizenry". However, critics argue that the homogenous nature of New Villages — with the few multiracial ones eventually failing or turning into ghettoes — worked against this goal, instead accentuating communalist fervour and causing racial polarisation, especially in politics, as electoral constituencies would now be delineated more along racial lines.
Previously, the Chinese rural workers and peasants had been spread out geographically, but the Briggs' Plan would now bring together rural Chinese from all over the country and concentrate them in the New Villages. There was significant resentment towards the programme both among the Chinese and Malays. The Chinese frequently suffered from collective punishment, preventive detention and summary deportation aimed at weeding out communist supporters, while the Malays were incensed at the infrastructure provided for the New Villages as their own settlements remained undeveloped. One example of this collective punishment comes from Tanjung Malim where the British put the civilian population on rice rations in order to stop them from supporting the communist guerrillas. When this did not work, Gerald Templer halved the rice rations for civilians within the area and imposed a 22 hour curfew.
Forcibly removing a population that might be sympathetic to guerrillas was a counter-insurgency (COIN) technique which the British had used before, notably initiated by Kitchener against the Boer Commandos in the Second Boer War (1899–1902).
The Briggs' Plan and the New Village system became a model for British counterinsurgency efforts in Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprising.
“Four cuts” strategy against villages and insurgents of Communist Party of Burma insurgents in Pegu Range. Generals Go Marching Down Memory Lane By AUNG ZAW in Irrawaddy Magazine
- New Village / Chinese New Village
- Malayan Emergency
- Malayan Communist Party
- Malayan National Liberation Army
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