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Operation Coldstore (sometimes spelled Operation Cold Store, Chinese: 冷藏行动) was a security operation launched in Singapore on 2 February 1963 in which at least 111 anti-government left-wing activists were arrested and detained, including key members of the opposition political party Barisan Sosialis. Others arrested included newspaper editors, trade unionists and university students. The operation, authorised by the Internal Security Council which comprised representatives from the British Colonial, Malaysian Federal and Singapore governments, was touted as an anti-Communist sting.
At that time, Singapore was a self-governing state under British rule. In 1959 the People's Action Party (PAP) headed by Lee Kuan Yew won the general elections and established the government. In order to secure the support of the Progressives and union leaders, Lee had made a number of promises during the election campaign to work for the release of the political prisoners detained by Lim Yew Hock's government in 1956 and 1957. As a result, Lim Chin Siong and some other PAP left wing members were released.
By 1961, no further political prisoners had been released. This played a role in the PAP's loss of two by-elections, to David Marshall in Anson and To Ong Eng Guan in Hong Lim. This led Lee to consolidate his party's support in his government. It was during this period that Lim's faction broke away from the PAP in 1961 to form the Barisan Sosialis.
In 1962, a referendum was put forth for Singapore's integration into the Federation of Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia in September 1963. The pro-communists, led by Barisan Sosialis, strongly opposed this merger and challenged the government of Singapore endeavours to establish a socialist state.
The Singapore Trade Union Congress, the dominant trade union at the time, was also split into two factions; the left-wings formed the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU), while the pro-PAP faction formed the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC).
Malaya had a strong anti-communist policy. During the Malayan Emergency, Malaya managed to contain communist influence. However, the communists had substantial influence in Singapore. Fearing a communist resurgency, the Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman insisted that Singapore round up all pro-communists before the merger occurred. Despite Lee Kuan Yew's initial objection, the British and the Malayans cast the decisive ballots at the Internal Security Council to launch the operation.
On 8 December 1962, the Brunei Rebellion broke out. The Barisan Sosialis issued a statement in support of the uprising against British colonialism. As this could lead to violent subversion in Singapore, a case was made for the arrests in the interests of safety and security. From British declassified documents, Lord Selkirk, the UK Commissioner, Singapore agreed to the operation and said,
"I said I had recognised all along that a threat was presented by the communists in Singapore. I had not however previously been convinced that a large number of arrests was necessary to counter this threat. Recently, however, new evidence had been produced about the extent of the communist control of the Barisan Socialis and also there had been indications that the communists might resort to violence if the opportunity occurred. Recent statements by the Barisan Socialis and Party Rakyat supporting the revolt in Brunei confirmed this."
Those arrested were detained under the Prevention of Public Security Order (PPSO). They were alleged to be involved in subversive activities aiming to establish a "Communist Cuba" in Singapore. The arrestees included
- Lim Chin Siong, secretary-general, Barisan Sosialis
- S Woodhull, vice-chairman, Barisan Sosialis
- Fong Swee Suan, secretary-general SATU and executive committee member, Barisan Sosialis
- James Puthucheary,
- Dominic Puthucheary, committee member SATU and Barisan Sosialis; vice-president Singapore General Employees' Union
- Said Zahari, former editor of Utusan Melayu
- Tan Teck Wah, president Singapore General Employees' Union; vice-president, SATU
- A Wahab Shah, chairman, Party Rakyat
- Lim Hock Siew
- Poh Soo Kai
The Operation dealt a heavy blow to the Barisan Sosialis, just months before the 1963 general elections.
SATU was deregistered after its leaders were arrested, and the NTUC became the main trade union in Singapore ever since. NTUC remains closely associated with the PAP, with many of its union leaders being PAP's members of parliament.
- CO 1030/1160 No 56, 14 Dec 1962 [Singapore Arrests]: Inward Telegram No. 582 from Lord Selkirk to Mr Sandys, Reporting the Decision of the ISC on 13 Dec
- The Straits Times, 3 February 1963 "107 HELD IN SINGAPORE DAWN DRIVE"
- Hussin Mutalib (2004). Parties and Politics. A Study of Opposition Parties and the PAP in Singapore. Marshall Cavendish Adademic. ISBN 981-210-408-9
- Lee Kuan Yew. (1998). The Singapore Story. Federal Publications. ISBN 0-13-020803-5
- Mathew Jones, “Creating Malaysia: Singapore Security, the Borneo Territories and the Contours of British Policy, 1961-1963” in Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 28, No. 2, May 2000. pp. 85–109