Monday, 14 May 2012

Reopening wounds of Batang Kali

The look on their wizened faces betrayed everything: there was bewilderment and awe, but most of all the eyes were empty.

In the 1948 Malayan Emergency, the war of terror and counter terror was fought in the jungles.
batang kali massacre 1948 121208In 2012, three survivors of the Batang Kali massacre battled it out in a war of words and technicalities, in the staid surroundings of the Courts of Justice, London.

The three, Loh Ah Choi, 71, Lim Ah Yin, 76, and Chong Koon Ying, 74, were children during the massacre.
All claimed to recall the incident clearly.

Sixty-four years ago, they stared into the barrel of a Lee Enfield jungle carbine, fear running down their spines.
Last Monday, they were caught by several cameras as they faced the British media pack.

Six decades ago, there was the prospect of death when the Scots Guards barked questions at them. Last week, the spectre of the orang putih, this time firing questions about the killings, resumed.

With the help of their Malaysian lawyers, Firoz Hussein and Quek Ngee Meng, who doubled up as translators, the claimants answered the reporters.

The strain showed when one of the ladies' eyes became damp from the memories.
At times, their voices were barely audible. Wives and children were left homeless, without breadwinners. Families were destroyed, lives shattered, their futures grim. Occasionally, a calloused hand described a detail.

On 11 December 1948, 16 soldiers from the 7th Platoon, G Company of the 2nd Scots Guards Battalion arrived at the Sungei Remok estate and separated the women and children from the men.
One man died that same day, but by the following afternoon, all but one of the remaining men, were shot dead, in an apparent escape. Twenty-four men were killed.

The three claimants travelled to London for the hearing on 8 and 9 May. Despite the considerable interest in the UK, the response to this ongoing judicial review has been mixed.
At stake are the reputations of the British government and the Scots Guards; but there is also the desire to correct human-rights abuses.

 'Where is Batang Kali?'

Back in Malaysia, it is curious that very few people seem bothered. The ones closely following proceedings are the immediate families of the victims, those in their community and interested parties.

A Malaysian asked, "Where is Batang Kali?"

So has Batang Kali been redacted from our history books? Does its omission mean there is something to hide or is it to spare the families or the townsfolk?

One of the victims said, "Only older people know about Batang Kali."

Another Malaysian said, "These things happen in war. Why rake things up?"

The reaction from another was, "If these unarmed villagers were killed in cold blood, their relatives deserve an apology and should be compensated."

After WWII, Britain relied on Malaya's rubber and tin for its economic recovery. Anyone with an interest in Malayan history would have read about communist dominated strikes which paralysed the estates and tin mines.

When more trouble flared with the indiscriminate killing of planters, miners and those whom the communists called "the running dogs", the euphemism for British supporters, a state of emergency was declared in June 1948.

NONEBy this time, the communist regiments led by Chin Peng (left), had already remobilised in the jungle.

They relied on supplies and information provided by the 430,000 Chinese squatters who lived on the jungle fringes, where they had settled during WWII, to escape the Japanese.

War-weary Britain had to protect its economic powerhouse - Malaya. Young men, mostly in their late teens, on national service were sent to Malaya. For many, this was their first time away from home, and their first taste of fighting. The weather and culture shock did not help.

In jungle guerilla warfare, the conscripts were fighting an enemy they could not see. Booby traps, ambush and torture were common. They were jittery. Some had not met "foreigners" before and could not distinguish communist terrorists from genuine villagers.

In the modern world, it was the CIA which trained Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen to free Afghanistan from the Russians. During WWII, Chin Peng, the leader of the Malayan Communist Party, learnt the art of guerrilla warfare from the British.

Spencer Chapman had parachuted into the jungle and formed ‘Force 136'. Together with Chin Peng and his Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), they liberated Malaya from the Japanese.

Little headway

After the Batang Kali incident, the villagers tried to seek redress, but had little headway.

In 1970, following the ‘confession' by members of the Scots Guards, Scotland Yard started a detailed investigation. This was prematurely stopped.

In 1992, the BBC made a documentary "In Cold Blood" and interest into Batang Kali was renewed.

NONEThe Malaysian police started a detailed investigation in 1993 but this was abruptly terminated. This was about the time that former PM Mahathir Mohamed was looking east. Did he quash the investigation and do a dirty deal with the British?

This latest attempt will probably be the last chance by the claimants to seek the truth, but fierce resistance, expressed quietly, have been made by Malaysian and British observers.

"The claimants are opening up old wounds for monetary gain. The lawyers are in it for the money. The authors are trying to sell their book."

An ex-planter said, "I lost family, friends and colleagues too. Why rake up the past?"

"War is a dirty game and atrocities happen. It's ten times worse now, with suicide bombs, improvised explosive devices (IED) and drones. Bosnia's ethnic cleansing is another horror story. It's outrageous that the British dropped the 1970 investigation, but we did achieve a lot of good things in Malaya," said a former British soldier.

A Malaysian said, "An atrocity was committed. I hope the various political parties don't hijack these claimants for political gain. DAP tried to further the claimants' cause but received no cooperation from the government. MCA got somewhere but will Umno allow them to "go all the way"?"

Expensive and lengthy

The results of the judicial review will prove controversial. It is believed that in the event an inquiry is approved, the investigation will be expensive and lengthy.

The British taxpayer may also have to fork-out compensation, and this will anger an already cash-strapped British public. Already British legal aid is funding this judicial review.

NONEFor the Malaysian government, any British inquiry will start an unwelcome precedent. It may unleash an investigation into Malaysia's own demons: May 13. Kampung Memali. Kampung Medan. The Kerling incident.

Malaysian history is already distorted. Racial tensions are simmering and truth is expendable.

For six decades, these victims and their families fought to clear their names and establish the truth; but as one cynic said, "If people were not prepared to help the communists, they would be brutally coerced, to become unwilling helpers. Who would dare admit being a sympathiser?"

Another said, "Let sleeping dogs lie."

For the three claimants, life goes on. They wonder if their circumstances would have been different, had their parents lived. For 64 years they grieved; anger and rejection, swiftly replacing the initial feelings of loss. Today, they demand closure.

Back in Batang Kali, there is not even a monument in memory of the poor men who died. Many did not receive a decent funeral or burial plot.
They and their families have been betrayed once too often, so shouldn't Malaysians contribute towards a monument?

When asked what their feelings were towards the orang putih, one claimant said, "After so many years, what is there to be angry about?"

No comments:

Post a Comment