COMMUNIST INSURGENCY IN MALAYSIA (1946-1989): THE EMERGENCY, NEW VILLAGES AND THE POLITICS OF TRYING TO END IT

COMMUNIST INSURGENCY IN MALAYSIA

A Communist n insurgency to oust the British began in World War II and was supported by China in the 1950s. The insurrection was a big part of the “Emergency.” It lasted for 12 years until 1960 and was led mainly by Chinese guerillas who worried they would be squeezed out an independent Malay state.

A Communist movement became a force to reckoned with up after World War II in Malaysia and was very active in the 1950s. Based near Thailand, the group was made up mainly of Chinese loyal to Beijing. In its early years it was led by a mysterious figure named Loi Tek. No photographs of him was ever taken and few members of his own party ever saw him. He led the Malayan Communist Party from 1939 until his ouster in 1947. Rumors circulated that he was ousted because he embezzled funds and may have been a British double agent. Some believe he was killed in the 1940s. Others say he was still alive somewhere, living incognito, as of the 1980s.

The insurgency continued for more than a decade and was not put down until 1960. One British diplomat who dared to venture out of an barbed-wire enclosed compound for a drive in a place where Communists were never returned. His bullet-ridden body was found near a road. The Communists in Malaysia were marginalized by economic development and anti-insurgency tactics.

Government records show that at the height of the insurgency in the early 1950s, Malaya was home to some 40,000 British and Commonwealth troops, 70,000 police and a quarter of a million volunteer guards facing off 8,000 communist guerrillas. Several thousand civilians, insurgents and government troops were killed during the Emergency, according to colonial records, but historians are still divided over the exact number. The insurgency ended two years after Malaysia gained its independence from Britain in 1957 but the MCP continued fighting until a 1989 peace agreement was signed. [Source: Romen Bose, AFP, June 23, 2009]

The Communist insurgency was still active in the 1960s and 70s but ultimately was unable to recruit young people and eventually died out. The British perfected anti guerilla tactics in Cyprus, Malaya and Kenya. Village chiefs that supported insurgencies against the British and their allied governments were forced to frog march to prison.

Communist activity in Malaysia and worries about a domino effect in Southeast Asia played a part in the United States becoming involved in Vietnam. Marvin Ott, a professor of national security policy at the National War College, wrote in the Washington Post: "Trouble was building elsewhere throughout Southeast Asia. Malaysia, in addition to Indonesian hostility, faced a lingering guerilla movement that still dominated some of the remote jungle hinterland. Singapore...was embroiled in a fierce struggle between communists and Lee Kuan Yew's anticommunist People's Action Part in 1961-62.”

Origins of the Communist Insurgency

The proto communist group—the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA)— was disbanded in December 1945. From it the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was organised as a legal political party, while the MPAJA’s arms were carefully stored for future use. The MCP policy was for immediate independence with full equality for all races. This meant it recruited very few Malays. The Party’s strength was in the Chinese-dominated trade unions, particularly in Singapore, and in the Chinese schools, where the teachers, mostly born in China, saw the Communist Party of China as the leader of China’s national revival. In March 1947, reflecting the international Communist movement’s “turn to left” as the Cold War set in, the MCP leader Lai Tek was purged and replaced by the veteran MPAJA guerrilla leader Chin Peng, who turned the party increasingly to direct action. These rebels, under the leadership of the Malayan Communist Party, launched guerrilla operations designed to force the British out of Malaya. [Source: Wikipedia]

The CPM (Communist Party of Malaya) was formed in 1930 clandestinely under the authority of the Moscow - directed Communist International (Comintern) agent for Southeast Asia, Ho Chi Minh (of Vietnam). It adopted a multi - Communist Insurgency 13 3 attempting to recruit Malays, Chinese and Indians, the three major ethnic groups in Malaya, but by World War II (1939 - 45) it had ended up as a mainly Chinese party. According to its 1934 constitution, its aim was to overthrow British colonialism, abolish Malay feudalism and set up a Malayan People’s Republic. 2 Before 1941, the party was reported to have carried out acts of terror and violence, including assassinations of its ‘enemies’ who included British officials, police informers, part y dissidents and members of the rival party, the Malayan Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party). [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

In December 1941, the CPM was finally recognized by the British administration when it supported the British effort to mobilize defence against the invading Ja panese army. Its members volunteered their services for training as guerrillas under British officers to fight in the front line against Japanese troops as well as behind Japanese lines. The guerrillas later constituted the nucleus of its resistance force, the Malayan People’s Anti - Japanese Army, (MPAJA), which was funded and supplied with arms by the British Armed Forces during the war. After the war, when British troops reoccupied Malaya in 1945, the MPAJA was forced to disband. The CPM, however, maintained a legal existence as a political party.

In the transition from war time to peace, food shortages in Malaya led to public riots and to workers’ strikes and demonstrations for higher wages. The CPM involved itself in these causes, and came into conflict w ith the British Military Administration (BMA). In many incidents British troops clashed with its members and even opened fire to put down CPM - organized demonstrations and picket lines.

Communist Insurgency in Sarawak

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: The Chinese - led insurgency in Sarawak began immediately after the Brunei uprising in December 1962 when SCO members joined the Brunei rebels in the jungles and teamed up with Indonesian troops under Indonesia’s ‘confrontation’ of Malaysia. Th e insurgents formed the North Kalimantan Communist Party (NKCP) in 1970. Communism had spread from China through Sarawak’s Chinese schools in the 1940s, and after the war spread further in the labour movement and through infiltration within Sarawak’s first political party, the predominantly - Chinese Sarawak United People’s party, which was formed in June 1959. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

To reduce the local people’s support for the insurgency in Sarawak, the federal government decided in 1965 to introduce ‘controlled areas’ by resett ling some 10,000 settlers in the First Division and the Third Division near the border areas with Indonesian Kalimantan. The settlers were placed in three ‘new villages’ fenced in with barbed wire, similar to those set up during the 1948 - 60 Emergency in Ma laya. 31 As a result of this operation, the insurgents like their counterparts in Malaya could not receive food supplies and other means of support from their Chinese and Dayak supporters. Skirmishes with the security forces took place intermittently until o vertures were made by the Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Rahman Ya’akub to the insurgents and he succeeded in persuading them to lay down their arms. Communist influence in the SUPP was only brought under control after the party adopted a change of policy af ter the riots on May 13, 1969, when it finally supported the formation of Malaysia and agreed to join the ruling Alliance coalition in the Sarawak Council Negri.

Malaysia’s Communist Insurgency, Nationalism and Elections

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: The communist insurgency was a feature of the global Cold War after World War II, but it was also undeniably a national liberation struggle. Communist insurgencies had occurred almost simultaneously in Malaya, Burma, Indonesia, and in the Philippines in 1948 as the peoples in these territories were fighting for social justice, freedom as well as for national independence as part of post - war Asia an d Africa’s struggles for self - determination and the end of European colonialism. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

In this context, Tunku Abdul Rahman—the first prime minister of Malaysia— has accorded the communist insurgents in Malaysia appropriate recognition for their armed struggle for independence. In his memoirs, Lest We Forget (1983) he wrote: Just as Indonesia was fighting a bloody battle, so were the communists in Malaya, who, too, fought for independence; with the difference that the communists of Malaya were not the indigenous people of the country and they were fighting to set up a communist regime which the believers in the faith of Islam could not support, nor could those orthodox people who believed in democracy and freedom. So the struggle for the independence of the country was carried out by the communists alone and they fought a subversive as well as a shooting war, losing many of their men and at the same time killing many of our men and the Commonwealth soldiers. The battle continued for 12 years and would have gone on had the British government not yielded to our demand for a general election as a step towards independence.

The long - term consequences arising from the causes and effects of the communist insurgency, however, reveal that human actions often vary with, and sometimes are contrary to, the results that were intended or expected. As Short has said, it is difficult to state which was the more important in time and form for the future of Malaya — the attainment of independence or the defeat of the communist insurrection. The communist insurrection had led to a prolonged Emergency, the rise of communalism, an authoritarian regime to combat communist subversion and influence, ethnic urbanization and polarization, the end of colonial rule and the birth and building of a new nation, which saw the communist insurg ency equally as a threat. The scars, pains and weapons of the Emergency continued to remain long after the colonial presence had disappeared. The popularly elected government, like the colonial government, used authoritarian measures to suppress citizen dissidents and discontents, much in the same way as they had been used to suppress communist subversion and influence. The insurgency’s major threat had always been to internal security and national defence. But it is ironic that when that threat actually c eased seventeen years ago laws that were previously introduced in Malaysia to combat communist subversion and influence were not removed from the statute books and were still defended as necessary to safeguard internal security. This legacy of authoritaria n rule from the time of the Emergency has been the most negative aspect of the communist insurgency. The executive authorities and the police force have been empowered with extensive powers, which have been frequently used to curb citizens’ human rights an d impede the development of civil society. On the positive side, however, in its efforts to undermine the rationale of the insurgency and isolate it further, the Malaysian government had over the years pursued economic growth, industrialization, an indepen dent non - aligned foreign policy, as well as flexible policies of multi - culturalism in education and culture.

Activities of the Communist Insurgency in Malaysia

According to the Australian government: “In 1946 the British announced the proposals, which would have led to the granting of citizenship to the Malayan Chinese. The proposals were, however, extremely unpopular with the wider Malay population, so the British withdrew them. This about-face enraged the Malayan Chinese, some of whom, abandoning protests and strikes, began a campaign of violence that included intimidation, sabotage, and selective assassination. And in 1948 the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), attempting to redirect this violence, decided to convert the struggle against the British into a rural guerrilla war.

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: In the early years of Malaya’s Emergency, (1948 - 1951), the communists attempted to destroy the economy by slashing rubber trees and blowing up tin mines in an effort to disrupt these two key industries. But its ‘October 1951’ directive put an end to this phase, as the CPM realized that such destruction of the economy was counter - productive and threatened the livelihood of the people. Thereafter, until its guerrilla forces retreated to the Thai border, the CPM did not resort to any further efforts to disrupt the economy. Consequently, Malaya’s economic development gained momentum.

Communist subversion in Chinese schools had appeared intermittently in the 1950s when Chinese students demonstrated spectacular acts of violence, but the educational issue did not take on the dimensions o f a major political problem, as it did in Singapore, largely because the MCA and Chinese educational groups had dominated the national debate on Chinese education.

The 1970s and 1980s saw the CPM intensify its activities of terrorism and clashes with the security forces. Communist groups attempted to blow up the National Monument in Kuala Lumpur, carried out ambushes of police field forces and succeeded in assassinating the police chief of Perak state and the Inspector - General of Police. These activities were due to a rivalry among three factions in the CPM. The split had been over party purges and strategies and each faction tried to outdo the other in militancy and viole nce. The communist threat was so serious during the administration of third Prime Minister Hussein Onn (1976 - 81) that it was alleged the government had been infiltrated and there was communist influence among UMNO politicians. These allegations arose in th e heat of UMNO politics during the party’s annual elections for top posts, and were taken so seriously that two UMNO deputy ministers and several Malay journalists were detained for communist activities. However, in 1973 - 4 a major victory was scored by th e government when one of the Sarawak Communist Organization’s (SCO) leaders, Bong Kee Chok, was persuaded to surrender with 481 followers. The group made up about 75 percent of the total communist force in the state. The rest followed suit under another peace ac cord in 1990.

Assassinations in Malaysia in 1948

The Malayan Emergency was declared on 18 June 1948, after three estate managers were murdered in Perak, northern Malaya by guerrillas of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). In Malaysia the assassination are known as the Sungai Sipu Incident. According to the Malaysian Palm Oil Association, “It was a triple murder which some locals in Sungai Siput still talk about...On June 16, 1948, Elphil Estate manager A.E.Walker was shot in cold blood at his office desk in the Sungai Siput area at 8.30am. About 1.6km away, manager JM Alison and his assistant Ian Christian of the Phin Soon Estate were tied and killed by 12 terrorists about 30 minutes later.

Sixty-three years on, former estate workers could still vividly remember the difficult times they went through when Emergency was declared. A former tapper M. Palinimappan, 75, of Phin Soon Estate (now known as Sungai Siput Estate) remembered that June 16, 1948 was supposed to be a pay day. Instead, he said a curfew took place from 3pm to 6am the next day. A barbed wire fence was put up around the workers quarters following the killing of Alison and Christian. Another worker S. Poongananam, 67, who was a student in 1948, remembered that there was food rationing at the workers quarters.

Each man in a family was allocated five katis (2.5kg) of rice for a week while the women got three katis (1.5kg) each. Soldiers would often search the quarters to ensure that we did not hide food to support the guerillas, he said. The workers, he said, supplemented their meals by eating tapioca. Poongananam said several Indian workers were jailed for supporting the guerillas although some had done so out of the fear of being killed. He said among the guerillas known to the workers was someone named Perumal, a lorry driver from Elphil Estate.

According to leaflets dropped from the air by the British, Perumal was a vicious man who had the power to make himself invisible. It was said that Queen Elizabeth wanted him captured alive. There was a story that Perumal shot dead a worker named Mudaliar who refused to heed his order to get off a lorry which he later set ablaze, he added. Palinimappan claimed he saw Perumal and a group of guerillas at the workers quarters on one occasion. He was in khaki uniform and he distributed sweets and chocolates to the children, he said. Another former tapper M. Maggamah, 64, said Perumal was her mother’s cousin. We were told that he was a good person who acted for the workers whenever they were bullied by someone, she said. Maggamah said Perumal was shot dead by the guerillas when he wanted to surrender to the Government.She said Perumal’s wife and children were later sent back to India.

According to a Reuters report from September 1948: “With three bullet wounds in the head, Dr. Ong Chong Keng, a Chinese unofficial member of the Federal Legis-lative and Executive Councils, was found on a lonely path at Penang last night. This is the first time that terrorism has spread to this peace-ful island off Malaya's north western coast.

Dr. Ong was lured from his surgery last night when a small boy asked for attention for his sister who was allegedly ill. Dr. Ong left the surgery with the' boy on the pillion of his motorcycle, which was later found abandoned near Ong's body. Dr, Ong was a .well-known supporter of the British cam-paign against the Communist terrorists.

Penang, hitherto,,was regarded as a haven from terrorists and many European women and chil- dren were evacuated'there from danger areas on the mainland. Penang police have launched a .widespread search for the terrorists who murdered Dr. Ong. Patrol boats have been alerted to prevent their escape to the mainland.

Chinese terrorists last night at- tempted to shoot Clifford Ogilvie, the younger brother of a man who was ambushed and murdered near Ipoh, on August 5. Shortly after dusk ..terrorists opened fire on Ogilvie's bungalow at his mine at the Mero tin mine, but Ogilvie and his guards drove off the attackers.

Killing of British High Commissioner Henry Gurney

In October 1951,British high commissioner Henry Gurney---the colonial government's senior representative in Malaya---was ambushed and gunned down on a narrow tree-lined road leading to the highland resort of Fraser's Hill by communist guerrillas, three years after the rebels launched a bid to oust colonial authorities. "This (killing) was a historically significant event as it marked the beginning of a bloody war with the communists," district government officer Nor Hisham Ahmad Dahlan told AFP.[Source: Romen Bose, AFP, June 23, 2009]

Romen Bose of AFP wrote: Gurney took over as high commissioner just months after the Emergency was proclaimed on June 18, 1948 to deal with an armed rebellion by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), supported by the Chinese Communist Party.Gurney and his wife were being driven in their Rolls Royce to the popular resort when they were ambushed by insurgents. Witnesses said Gurney deliberately left the car when the shooting began, to draw fire away from his wife and driver. He was shot and died in the middle of the road.

The brazen attack galvanized British authorities and marked a turning point in the campaign to crush the insurgency. "Despite having numerous plans to tackle the insurgents, Gurney's death provoked a strong reaction from the incoming Churchill government in Britain, now determined to find a lasting solution to the insurgency," said Brian Farrell, associate professor of history at the National University of Singapore.

The Emergency and the Communist Insurgency

In July, 1948 following a string of assassinations of plantation managers, the colonial government struck back, declaring a State of Emergency, banning the MCP and arresting hundreds of its militants. The Party retreated to the jungle and formed the Malayan Peoples’ Liberation Army, with about 13,000 men under arms, all Chinese.

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: The British administration, finding it difficult to control the situation, declared a state of emergency (hereafter Emergency). It blamed the troubles on the communists. The CPM, however, denied the charge, and countered that the Emergency was a ploy, the result of collusion between the colo nial state and British capitalists to suppress labour. It rejected the claim that all the violence, strikes and disputes were the work of communist - led unions. Nevertheless, the Emergency caught the party off guard. The CPM’s leader, Chin Peng, would later state in his memoirs (published in 2003) 6 that it was the Emergency and the mass arrests of its members, that forced the CPM to issue a call to its members to revive its disbanded wartime resistance army, the MPAJA, and to take up arms again and escape to the jungles. The British authorities would later claim that they had seized the psychological initiative at the right moment to act against the communists and pre - empted their plans for a full - scale uprising. The CPM was proscribed. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

The consequences of this insurgency were far - reaching. Many of the CPM’s partners in the multi - ethnic coalition of parties, the AMCJA - PUTERA, disappeared underground with the communists. As a result, the CPM’s guerrillas comprised small groups of Indians and Malays, besides la rge numbers of Chinese members. Malay communist leaders Abdullah C. D. and Rashid Mydin headed its 10th Malay Regiment. Not long after this, two affiliates of the AMCJA - PUTERA, the Malayan Democratic Union, comprising mainly English - educated radicals, and the Malay Nationalist Party dissolved themselves, on the grounds that the repressive Emergency regulations rendered ‘open’ politics untenable. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

The insurgents declared their immediate objectives were to disrupt the economy and to establish ‘liberated’ areas , and their insurrection was aimed at the overthrow of an oppressive British colonialism and to achieve freedom and national independence for the people of Malaya. For the next two decades, the CPM would subscribe to the terms of the ‘People’s Constitutio n for Malaya,’ and support that multi - ethnic movement’s notion of a ‘nation - state’. Its ideas and proposals were precursors of identical demands that the UMNO and other Malayan political parties would make later. The manifesto meant that the CPM had watere d down or compromised its own goal of a ‘Malayan People’s Republic’. It is unclear whether this was a tactical move, or it had adopted this approach after a more realistic appraisal of the country’s complex ethnic problems. However, in the 1960s, the CPM w ould begin to question the basic premises of that 1947 political programme and issue a revised manifesto declaring that it no longer regarded the Malays as the ‘ethnic core’ of the nation, and to state that all races should be treated equal. It would go on to reject Malay as the national language and demand that the languages of the three major races in Malaysia be made official languages.

Draconian Laws Aimed at Containing the Communist Insurgency

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: The communist insurgency led to the emergence of an authoritarian state. Seeking to combat communist subversion and influence, the British administration began introducing a series of draconian laws which have remained in use in Malaysia since — the Emergency Regulations of 1948, parts of which have survived within the Internal Security Act of 1960; the Sedition Act (revised in 1969); the Societies Act (amended in 1981); the Official Secrets Act (amended in 1986) and the Essential (Security Case) Regulations (1975). [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

The subsequent amendments have increased the repressive features of th e legislation by allowing the government to curtail the fundamental liberties of citizens, whenever it deems there is a threat to national security. Politics in Malaya during the 1948 - 60 period were very much hamstrung by the Emergency regulations, which restricted freedom of movement, freedom of publications and freedom of speech. As the regulations allowed detention without trial, anyone suspected of communist sympathies or left - leaning ideas were liable to be taken in for interrogation or detention as s ympathizers or collaborators. Newspapers were required to obtain licences annually to publish. Censorship of information was enforced. All social organizations and political parties had to be registered under the Societies Act. Public assemblies or demonst rations were prohibited. These measures were defended as necessary for national security and political stability. Freedom and basic human rights were, therefore, not nurtured in Malaya during the Emergency. 7 CPM document, commemorating its 40 th anniversary, 1970, no date, cyclostyl ed sheet, published by the CPM. Communist Insurgency

Furthermore, the Federation of Malaya constitution of 1948 did not spell out basic human rights for the people nor introduce democracy, such as universal suffrage, elections, an elected legislature and self - government except to allow ‘Federal citizens’ the right to hold office in administration. Britain regarded the federation’s constitution simply as introducing an interim phase of tutelage in citizenshi p. However, the people, without any actual experience of democracy, began to face the full force of authoritarian rule. War and insurgency at the end of 1949 saw 5362 persons detained with 214 dependents, mostly children. By the end of 1950, the figures rose to 8508 detainees and 527 dependents respectively. For most of the ‘shooting war,’ as the Emergency came to be called, the armed forces were everywhere — troops at barbed wire check - points or road - blocks, and police in patrol cars, were engaged in checking and screening operations on a large scale. Not a day went by without some member of the community being searched or detained either for arms, or in or der to check on their bona fides . The identity card system had been introduced to facilitate the screening of people.

Foreign Military Presence in Malaysia During the Emergency

The British appointed Lieutenant-General Sir Harold Briggs as a Director of Operations in Malaya in 1950. Briggs completed a report that recommended both active anti-guerrilla operations and cutting the guerrillas off from communities likely to help them, as well as a systematic clearance of Malaya from the south to the north.

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: By 1952 there were over 32,000 regular troops in Malaya, about three - fifths of them Europeans from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. Other regular troops were Gurkhas, Fijians, the King’s African Rifles, seven battalions of the Malay Regiment, and Dayak jungle trackers from Borneo. In addition, there were 73,000 police (mostly Malays), and 224,000 home guards (mostly Malays), th e latter a local militia who were enrolled in their own villages to defend themselves from attack. Besides ground troops, there were air force squadrons from the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, and a few small warships. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

The financial cost of fighting the insurgents mounted from US$ 83,000 a day to over US$ 234,000.00 a day in 1953 and accounted for one third of that year’s annual federal expenditure. The joint cost to both Britain and Malaya was estimated at US$ 1.4 million a week. The costs co uld not have been borne by the two countries if Malaya’s economy had not benefited from the Korean War, which caused a ‘boom’ in rubber prices, and increased substantially Malaya’s revenues to pay for the ‘shooting war’.

After the British High Commission er, Sir Henry Gurney, was assassinated by communist insurgents on 7 February 1952, Malaya came under a military regime headed by General Gerald Templer , who conducted himself like a dictator. Templer was a feared man, who became notorious for his violent temper and intemperate language. He did little to conceal his contempt of the Chinese community because he said a large number of their members were ‘Communist bastards’.

‘Britain’s My Lai’ During Malayan Emergency?

Ben Macintyre wrote in The Times, “On December 13, 1948, this newspaper ran a small news item in the Imperial and Foreign news section beneath the headline: “Forces’ success in Malaya”. That “success” was the killing of 24 Chinese villagers by a patrol of the Scots Guards at the height of the Malayan Emergency, the communist-backed insurgency against British colonial rule in what is now Malaysia. The incident remains one of the most controversial and mysterious episodes in British imperial history, but 64 years after the British soldiers opened fire deep in the Malay jungle, a court will finally rule on whether to open an official inquiry into the killings. [Source: Ben Macintyre, The Times, April 28, 2012]

On May 8, lawyers representing families of the victims will present new evidence to the divisional court in London, claiming that the unarmed villagers were murdered in cold blood, and that the truth about the killings has been covered up ever since.The victims’ families say that there has never been a full investigation of an episode that has been described as “Britain’s My Lai” — a reference to the notorious killing of Vietnamese villagers by US forces during the Vietnam War.

In 1948, colonial authorities claimed that the 24 Chinese labourers in Batang Kali, a rubber plantation north of Kuala Lumpur, were suspected terrorists killed while attempting to escape. Bindmans, the lawyers bringing the lawsuit, are expected to challenge that claim with new evidence, including information gathered during a Malaysian police inquiry carried out in the 1990s and obtained by Ian Ward and Norma Miraflor, authors of the book Slaughter and Deception at Batang Kali. “There is an overwhelming case for a proper investigation, along with an immediate apology and reparation,” said John Halford, the solicitor leading the case. Although a number of the Scots Guardsmen involved are still living, he said that the plaintiffs would not seek criminal prosecutions.

The case was given added impetus last year after a group of Kenyans took legal action against the Foreign Office claiming that they were tortured during the Mau Mau uprising. That suit, expected to come to court in July, led to the discovery of a vast cache of colonial-era documents in secret Foreign Office archives in Buckinghamshire. Last week the Government began releasing sensitive documents removed from colonies before independence. The first batch contained documents relating to the Malayan Emergency, but the files on Batang Kali are missing.

A brief, informal investigation of the incident was carried out in 1949, absolving the soldiers. But some of those involved later came forward to claim that they had given false accounts in order to ensure that the Guardsmen were exonerated. The colonial attorney-general overseeing that inquiry later called the episode “a bona fide mistake”. A second inquiry was launched in 1970, with a special Scotland Yard task team led by Frank Williams, the detective who played a key role in the Great Train Robbery investigation of 1963. That investigation was shelved by the incoming Conservative Government, ostensibly for lack of evidence.

At the time of the killings, British troops were battling a growing communist rebellion, principally by Chinese insurgents. A few days earlier, three British soldiers had been burnt alive by insurgents, and counter-insurgency forces had received reports of “bandit” activity in the area of the Batang Kali.

On December 11, a 16-strong unit of Scots Guards, mostly composed of inexperienced National Servicemen, surrounded the rubber estate at Sunga Rimoh by the Batang Kali river. The men were separated from the women and children. That evening one man was shot by the soldiers; the remaining 23 men were killed the next day. According to some reports, a few of the bodies were mutilated. The women and children were taken away and the village burnt. No weapons were found. Chin Peng, the leader of the Malayan National Liberation Army, has stated that no one in the village was linked to the communist insurgency.

The Batang Kali incident was initially hailed as an important victory against the rebels, but the revelations about the My Lai massacre in 1968 prompted closer scrutiny. In 1970, the People newspaper quoted one of the soldiers as saying: “Once we started firing we seemed to go mad . . . I remember the water turning red with their blood.” In 1992, a BBC documentary entitled In Cold Blood examined the case, but the Foreign Office insisted that no new evidence had been uncovered to warrant another official inquiry. Last September, the High Court ordered a full hearing into the case to rule on whether to launch an investigation. Quek Ngee Meng, co-ordinator of the Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre, said that the decision to go ahead with legal hearings in this and the Mau Mau case sent an unequivocal message that there would be no cover-ups.

Authoritarian Rule Under General Gerald Templer

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: The Chinese community stood solidly to a man behind the Malayan Chinese Association (M CA) when it denounced Templer ’s official endorsement of a book, Jungle Green, about the insurgency by a military officer, Major Arthur Campbell, which was full of racial slurs against the Chinese community. Templer imposed collective punishment on Chinese in towns such as Permatang Tinggi, Tanjong Malim, and Pekan Jabi, confining the people in their homes for 24 hours and imposing daily curfews for a week. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

Features of his authoritarian rule were highlighted and even criticized by The Times of London in two articles published on 1 and 2 October 1953: Communist propagandists say Malaya is a police state and so in a way it is. The Emergency regulations have increased the power of the executive at the cost of the individual. The effective government is a military oligarchy, with a command apparatus demanding absolute obedience, which is also a system of police surveillance. The power of the security forces is almost absolute.... The military forces are in support of the civil powers, but the High Commissioner is their commander - in - chief and director of operations, and in effect the Legislature — nominated and heavily weighted with official members — is their civil affairs branch.... Broadly the Malayan case is that police and barbed - wire cannot hold back Communism ... Mor e power must be given to Malayans.

This last point sank in before long into the minds of the British government, which instructed Templer to introduce elections for an elected legislature and then ordered him home to London. He was re - assigned to a milit ary appointment in Germany. Although scholar Richard Stubbs has described Templer ’s policies during his period in office as a combination of the ‘carrot’ and the ‘stick’, 10 the political reforms which constituted the ‘carrot’ came about largely because the strategies of the ‘stick’ had failed. The high financial costs of the war, the high casualty rate and the economic and social hardships in Malaya led the British government to realize that the war would remain a long - drawn out one and could not be won wit hout the support of the people. In 1951 it began to expedite the pace of self - government, and to ensure that a locally - elected non - communist government would become involved and take over the war against the insurgents.

Rise of Communalism and Communal Politics

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: The colonial authorities were, therefore, forced to move away from their hard - line measures to encourage politics, democracy, elections and self - government. They could not prevent political parties of different polit ical hues from being organized and perforce had to accord a greater freedom of action and organization to the people. By a coincidence the outlawed CPM also shifted its strategy from military conflict to political struggle in its ‘October 1951 Directive’ a nd allowed its cadres to take part in ‘legal’ political parties by infiltrating their ranks and concealing their true identity. 11 Communist cadres would infiltrate registered parties whose aims and programmes were found to be basically acceptable. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

Within the next five or six years socialist parties would be formed, and these would also be infiltrated by communist agents, but the overall political arena was dominated by communal parties which had a head start in the field. Communalism was initially aroused i n 1948 by the debates over the Federation of Malaya constitution when Britain constructed the federation as a ‘nascent Malay - state’, Persekutuan Tanah Melayu . By restoring Malay rights and privileges after scrapping the Malayan Union constitution, which ha d offered equal citizenship to both Malays and non - Malays, Britain provoked strong non - Malay opposition to the terms of the federation’s constitution. But this opposition made little headway.

As the Emergency saw the disappearance of non - communal parties e specially those in the leftwing multi - racial AMCJA - PUTERA from the political arena, politics gave way to the dominance of communal parties such as the UMNO, MCA, formed under British sponsorship in 1949, and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC), formed in 1946. As political scientist K. J. Ratnam has rightly observed, communalism did not arise out of prejudice but because circumstances rendered it politically relevant. 12 Communal tensions became marked when thousands of able - bodied Chinese youths refused to re gister for national service and left by the shiploads for China.

Many Malays in the Security, Many Chinese Civilians Dead

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: Very few Chinese youths enlisted in the police and armed forces, although traditionally even in China these careers had been looked down upon as those fit only for the riff raff. In contrast, a Western scholar observed: The Malays firmly supported the government, and enlisted by thousands in the Malay Regiment and the police. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

Up to the middle of June 1957, 1700 Chinese civilians had been killed, as against 318 Malays, 226 Indians, 106 Europ eans, 69 Sakai (aboriginal) and 37 ‘others.’ 13 At the end of the Emergency, the final toll in lives was as follows: security forces 1865 killed and 2560 wounded, civilian casualties 4000 killed and 800 missing. Police casualties were 1346 and 1601 wounded. 14 Despite Chinese civilian casualties being higher, the Malay press questioned the loyalty of the Chinese community and their support in the fight against the communist insurgents.

New Villages for Chinese Squatters

Chinese squatters living on the jungle fringes who were forcibly removed by the government and transferred to fenced - up ‘new villages’ that came under government control. Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: During the early years of the Emergency before independence was granted, the British administration initially attempted to repatriate to China thousands of ‘stateless’ Chinese squatters living in rural settlements at the fringes of jungles and hills who were suspected of aiding the communist insurgents by being the source of their food supplies and financial support. But the repatriation succeeded in seeing only a few thousands of these squatters being sent to China before the procedure was foiled by the communist government in China which closed all Chinese ports to foreign ships due to fear of an i mpending Western military attack. Only a few ships got through before the ban, while others carrying repatriated Chinese had to stop at the port of British - ruled Hong Kong but not allowed to proceed further to China.[Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

Eventually all those repatriated Chines e were brought back to Malaya. The British authorities were forced to think seriously of alternative ways to resolve this issue. The remedy was the Briggs Plan, which saw half a million rural people who were suspected of being communist sympathizers and h elpers uprooted and removed into temporary camps or ‘new villages’. The impact of this big shift changed the demographic picture of Malaya and (later Malaysia) and led to rapid urbanization and in the concentration of Chinese in towns.

In pre - Emergency Malaya many Chinese were transients and unable to acquire land legally, ‘squatting,’ that is, illegal occupation of vacant land, was therefore a common form of Chinese colonization. All unalienated land in the Malay States was invested in the Malay Rulers an d land titles in each state were granted only on the authority of the Ruler - in - Council. Much of the land could, therefore, be alienated only to Malays. The main causes of the sharp increase in the rural squatter population appeared to have been: natural in crease, illegal immigration during and after the Japanese occupation (1941 - 1945), movement of labourers from closed mines and run - down plantations, and exodus of town - dwellers into the countryside to grow food. 20 The resettlement programme, which was initia ted by a committee under Sir Harold Briggs, the director of operations charged solely with the prosecution of the Emergency, comprised two exercises. The first was to regroup people living near jungles and hills which were considered ‘security zones’ into existing villages, which were thereby enlarged, while others became suburban appendages to towns, sited near main roads easily accessible to government security forces.

The majority (80 percent) of these ‘new villages’ were in the western part of the Malay Penin sula and altogether 480 of them were established between 1950 and 1960 and involved the transfer of 573,000 people, 86 percent of whom were Chinese. 21 The settlements, enclosed by barbed wire and their entrances guarded by police - posts, had been likened to ‘conc entration camps’, but they were mitigated by the provision of facilities such as electric lights, piped water, schools and clinics. The other exercise involving a total of 650,000 people of different races was the re - groupment of labourers on rubber estate s, tin mines, factories and sawmills and other places of employment as well as Malay and Orang Asli (aboriginal) settlements. The major difference between (a) the labour and the ‘new villages’ and (b) the Malay settlements was that the former were fenced in, while the Malay and Orang Asli villages were not. Attempts to resettle the Orang Asli into fortified zones were not successful.

The whole resettlement programme cost the British administration M$100 million to implement. Ultimately the resettlement pro gramme created 216 new urban centers in Malaya, with the urban Chinese element increasing from 43.4 percent to 73 percent. ‘It increased Chinese domination of the urban areas and added to their political power in the towns,’ says geographer Sandhu.

Malay voices were also raised against the British government’s request to the Malay Rulers to allow Chinese squatters to be moved from jungle fringes to ‘new villages’ to be built on Malay state lands. There were complaints that the ‘new villages’ enjoyed better facilities such as electricity and water supplies than Malay villages, despite Malays having given greater support and loyalty to the government in the war against the insurgents.

Peace Efforts in the Early 1950s

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: To diffuse these rising tensions, the British Commissioner - General for Southeast Asia, Malcolm MacDonald, took the initiative to bring leaders of the different communities together in a ‘Communities Liaison Committee’ to enable them to sit down and discuss Malaya’s political future and ways to bring about national unity. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

Although the discussions were informal, they succeeded in bringing about co operation and understanding among these leaders, who included the UMNO’s president Dato’ Onn, the MCA leader Tan Cheng Lock and the leader of the Ceylonese community, Dato C. Thuraisingam. It was largely due to these discussions that Dato’ Onn was persuade d to put aside his Malay nationalism and to work for a multi - ethnic ‘Malayan’ nationalism. But in so doing he ran against a strong tide of Malay opinion within his own party. He resigned from the UMNO in 1951 when UMNO members disagreed with his decision to open its doors to non - Malays and turn itself into a ‘Malayan’ party and to support liberal citizenship terms for non - Malays. 16 Dato’ Onn went on to form the multi - ethnic Independence of Malaya Party (IMP), but it received lukewarm support from Malays and other communities. This forced him to dissolve the IMP and to form another party, the Party Negara, in which Malay nationalism again became a driving force.

Weakening of the Communist Insurgency

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: Since 1953 the communists had experienced military setbacks in their struggles, and their guerrilla units were eventually forced to retreat to the Malayan - Thai border for refuge. They had suffered huge losses of men, food shortages and a breakdown in communications among their regiments due to the successful operations conducted by the security forces and British military intelligence. The Briggs Plan brought about a serious food crisis for the insurgents because it isolated them from their food suppliers. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

Chin Peng has revealed in My Side of History (2003) that in 1960 the CPM was militarily routed when the government confidently ended the Emergency by declar ing all areas in the country ‘white’, that is, free of communist guerrilla activities. The party had withdrawn all its guerrilla forces to the Thai border and quietly accepted defeat and was on the brink of winding down its military operations.

Efforts to End the Communist Insurgency in the Mid 1950s

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: The multi - ethnic UMNO - MCA - MIC Alliance Party that won 51 of the 52 contested federal seats in July 1955 elections immediately offered amnesty to the communist insurgents. It also began negotiations with the British government for full self - government and national independence. To discuss the amnesty terms, Tunku Abdul Rahman, leader of the Alliance government, met with the communist leaders at Baling (in Kedah state) on 28 and 29 December 1955. Baling Talks, December 1955

At the Baling talks, the communists asked for peace, but on honourable terms. The CPM leader Chin Peng’s strategy was to seek amnesty and gain a foothold in the independence talks that the Alliance leaders were scheduled to hold with the British government in London in February 1956 by playing a ‘trump card’. This came about on the last day after Tunku Abdul Rahman had rejected the party’s two demands: that if the CPM accepted the amnesty and laid down its arms, it would be recognized as a legitimate political party in Malaya, and, secondly, communist insurgents who accepted the amnesty would not be detained and screened by the police. Both demands were rejected. In introducing his trump card,Chin Peng said that the CPM would cease its hostilities and lay down its arms if the Alliance government could obtain the powers of internal security and defence from the British government.

Tunku Abdul Rahman promptly accepted the challenge and promised to obtain these concessions from London. Great publicity was given in the media to this dramatic challenge from Chin Peng. The challenge, indeed, served to strengthen the Alliance government’s bargaining position at the London talks. Anxious to end the Emergency, the British government agreed to co ncede those powers of internal security and defence and to the demand for independence for Malaya by 31 August 1957, if possible. Chin Peng would later claim that his challenge had hastened the arrival of independence by at least three years and that Tunku Abdul Rahman had acknowledged the importance of the Baling talks when the latter wrote in 1974 that ‘Baling had led straight to Merdeka (Independence).’ After independence, the communists asked for a second meeting with Tunku Abdul Rahman, but this was turned down. The communists would later claim that this was the reason they did not make good their promise that they would lay down their arms and cease hostilities.

Communist Insurgency After the Ending of The Emergency

The Emergency lasted 12 years (1948 - 1960), but when it ended the insurgency still continued unabated until 1989. Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: In December 1960, Malaysian Communist Party leader Chin Peng fell ill. As the party’s demobilization began taking place, it was decided that he should leave for Beijing to recuperate and direct its final operations from there. Chin Peng would, however, remain in Beijing for the next 29 years and the party would not lay down its arms until 1989. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

The reasons for this reversal of the party’s decision to disband, explained Chin Peng in his memoirs, was the advice given to him by the Vietnamese communist leaders in Hanoi, the opening of the second ‘Vietnam War’, which was followed by China’s Cultural Revolution, all of which stressed a strong militant line to be taken by Asian communist parties. The insurgency in Malaya, therefore, continued, with the insurgents increasing their attacks, ambushes of military convoys, bombing of national monuments and assassinations of marked police officers and political ‘enemy targets’.

The insurgency, which began as a war against the British colonialists was now transformed into a war against ‘feudalists, comprador e capitalists and lackeys of British imperialism’. As the insurgency spluttered on, the national government did not relent in its vigilance. It maintained a high security alert. It devoted one - third of its national budget to defence and internal security n eeds. It requested British, Australian and New Zealand troops and military bases to remain in the country until its internal security and national armed forces could be built up and the foreign troops were gradually phased out. As the country’s national d efence was taken care of by the foreign troops, and the communist insurgents were isolated at the Malayan - Thai border, the national government was free to strengthen internal security and concentrate on national development and infrastructure projects such as education, rural development and social welfare. Although it lifted the Emergency in 1960, the government refused to annul many of the specific laws which were still in force, such as those allowing censorship of information and detention without trial on the grounds that they were still needed to fight the ongoing communist insurgency.

Political Activity of the Communists in the 1960s

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: Following independence, the political arena saw the appearance of socialist parties like the Labour Party and the Party Raa’yat (People’s Party). The CPM’s cadres soon began to infiltrate these political organizations. The 1960s are usually regarded as the high tide of left - wing ascendancy in the world, and Malaya and other parts of Asia were no exception. In Malaya in the late 1950s and in the 1960s the leftwing socialist parties achieved a remarkable degree of electoral success by gaining a wide influence or dominance over the public. They secured several seats in Malaya’s Parliament and swept most of the town council elections, leading the Alliance Government eventually to suspend local government elections. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

As the communist insurgency was still on, the ‘communist bogey’ came into play in politics, so did the forces of communalism and nationalism. The CPM’s strategy of ‘open’ political struggle reached its highest point in the mid - 1960s with its opposition to the formation of Malaysia in line with Indonesia’s ‘confrontation’ of Malaysia. The leftwing parties in Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Brunei followed this line by mounting a campaign against Malaysia, but they failed. By 1966, the Labour Party had dissolved itself and other leftwing parties in the region were in disarray, or suppressed, if not in retreat due to ideological or communal differences. Suppression in the form of mass arrests of leaders by the authorities crippled their activities. The CPM’s campaign to oppose the formation of Malaysia, and Singapore’s independence in 1965, would increasingly be discredited. The United Nations (UN) and other world bodies would recognize both nations, and later, even the communist countries came to accept them as a fait accompli . By the end of the 1960s the CPM would abandon its support for political struggle and call for militant struggle and revolution in line with the Vietnamese people’s war of national liberation and China’s ‘Cultural Revolution’. This would lead the party’s cadres to take to the streets to engage in further violent confrontations with the authorities. Their ‘open’ front organizations and their supporters would suffer further suppression during such confrontations.

Although Chin Peng claims that the riots led the insurgency to gain many recruits drawn from discontented Chinese youths who fled to its bases at the Thai border, 26 the insurgency still did not turn into a racial conflict. The greatest threat remained that of destabilizing the country by its acts of terrorism.

Closer Ties with China and Peace Efforts with the Communists in the 1970s

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: Under the administration of Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister (1970 - 76), Malaysia’s foreign policy underwent a dramatic change: from a pro - West and anti - communist policy, that was adopted by Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, to one of neutrality. Razak made this change to meet Malaysia’s national security needs, which required it to live in peaceful co - existence with all countries, communist and non - communist. Malaysia proposed the neutralization of Southeast Asia as a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), and joined the Movement of Non - Alig ned Nations (NAM). [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

These new directions in foreign policy not only muted the CPM’s criticisms that Malaysia was ‘a lackey of Western imperialism’ and enabled Malaysia to emerge eventually as a voice of the Third World in the next two decades and into the n ew millennium. Razak further undermined the CPM’s criticisms and isolated it further when Malaysia recognized Communist China (People’s Republic of China, PRC) the CPM’s patron, after U.S. President Richard Nixon (1969 - 74) had reached détente with China in 1972. During his official visit to China, Razak held talks with Chinese communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong (1949 - 76) and urged him to stop giving aid to the CPM.

During the administration of Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed (1981 - 200 3), further talks succeeded in persuading China to downgrade its ties with the CPM. This was an important factor that contributed to the CPM’s decision to end its armed struggle.

End of the Communist Insurgency in Malaysia

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: In Peninsular Malaysia, the split in the CPM eventually brought the surrender of two factions which had merged and comprised 700 guerrillas. They surrendered to Thai troops in December 1987, and it was reported that only 1300 guerrillas of the original CPM’s 8 th , 10 th and 12 th Regiments remained active. On 5 November 1989 the Malaysian government revealed that it was holding discussions with the CPM and the Thai military commanders and groups close to the CPM. The talks had gone on for almost a year. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

On 2 December 1989 the CPM agreed to end its armed struggle and signed separate formal peace treat ies with the Malaysian Government and Thailand’s southern military commanders. It was this agreement that persuaded the Sarawak guerrillas in the NKCP to lay down their arms as well in 1990. Six months later, the Deputy Inspector General of Police reporte d that the CPM had fulfilled its obligations by surrendering its arms, which were destroyed. He also reported that CPM members were helping to find effective ways to destroy some 45,000 booby traps laid by its guerrillas along the Malaysian - Thai border.

Failures of the Communist Insurgency in Malaysia

Cheah Boon Kheng of the National University of Singapore wrote: It is one of the ironies of the communist insurgency in Malaysia that in its struggle for national liberation it was unable to integrate itself with the forces of nationalism. Unlike their communist counterparts in China and Vietnam, who projected themselves successfully as nationalists, the communist insurgents in Malaysia failed to transform themselves and their ideology beyond the struggle for independence, and therefore, for much of the post - independence period, they appeared to be fighting for the sake of their ideology and remained isolated from the mainstream politics of the new nation - state. [Source: Cheah Boon Kheng, National University of Singapore, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11, 1 (June 2009): 132]

In Malaya and Sarawak the goal of the predominantly Chinese - led insurgencies was to establish a communist republic. But both the insurgencies had a limited scope, as they did not develop into a civil war, or an ethnic conflict, although, as one observer commented, 34 paradoxically, in Malaya, ‘the largely Chinese insurrection was met by largely Malay resistance; that the Chinese among the civil populati on suffered the heaviest casualties; among the security forces the heaviest casualties were suffered by the regular and auxiliary Malay police...’ Nevertheless, the insurrection, he pointed out, did make a contribution when it reached ‘ to the point where a British Government insisted on, and Malay and Chinese leaders accepted, a multi - racial basis for independence.’

Ghosts of Communist Insurgency Haunt Malaysia

In June 2009,Romen Bose of AFP wrote: “As Malaysian officials marked the spot where communist guerrillas killed Britain's top colonial official 58 years ago, debate has erupted over whether to allow an exiled rebel leader to return.Soldiers and policemen gathered at the weekend on the spot where British high commissioner Henry Gurney was ambushed and gunned down, and where a commemorative blue and white plaque was erected in his memory. [Source: Romen Bose, AFP, June 23, 2009]

This long-forgotten chapter in Malaysia's pre-independence history is being examined anew as Chin Peng, the country's former communist leader, seeks to return home from exile. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak last month ruled out the return of the insurgent chief -- who fled Malaya in the 1960s and now lives in Thailand -- after he lost his final legal appeal in April.

But several groups including ruling coalition members have urged the government to allow the 85-year-old to return on humanitarian grounds. His lawyer Darshan Singh Khaira has argued that his client is an independence hero. "Had it not been for Chin Peng and the communists fighting the British, Malaysia would not have gotten its independence from Britain as early as 1957," he said. But for Malaysian veterans like 50-year-old major Lee Hock Sun, who battled communist holdouts in the 1980s and who counts immediate family among the victims of the insurgency, Chin does not deserve to be welcomed home. "So many lives lost," he said. "We cannot forgive Chin Peng for killing so many innocent people."

Historians also question Chin Peng's claim to hero status, saying he has yet to apologise for all the deaths his men caused. "His claim that he influenced the timing of the country's independence does at least as much harm as any good, as it forced the birthing of Malaysia in circumstances of alarm, division and confrontation," Farrell said. "Only if Chin Peng is willing to accept responsibility for the wanton murder and destruction his men had wrought and apologise and face the consequences, will anyone be willing to engage him."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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