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Re reading History Today…

I was curious to read again the short article that I wrote about Batang Kali before writing ‘Massacre in Malaya’… Here is it is: Christopher Hale reports on a long campaign to discover the truth about the killing of Malayan villagers by British troops in 1948. Eyewitness: villager Romen Bose Tham, pictured in 2008. Getty Images/AFPFor two days in May the restless spirits of 24 men shot dead by British soldiers in a Malayan village 64 years ago haunted Court Three of London’s Royal Courts of Justice. The incident is often referred to as Britain’s My Lai – after the Vietnam War atrocity when ‘Charlie Company’, led by Lt. William Calley, murdered between 307 and 504 unarmed civilians on March 16th, 1968. This year, after a long campaign, lawyers acting for the relatives of the dead men finally persuaded the British government to reconsider what they assert is ‘a grotesque, on-going injustice’. Since the killings at Batang Kali more than six decades ago successive British governments have refused to hold a public enquiry into what took place. The decision whether to proceed with an enquiry will not be known for some time. Even so, the proceedings in Court Three generated […]
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Eliminationist strategies in official records

G.C. Madoc: “The last month of 1956 brought a total of 41 eliminations of terrorists, which is average for the year…During the year, 287 terrorists were killed, 52 were captured and 134 surrendered. The [communist] politburo policy of avoiding contacts and conserving terrorist strength remains in force.” “In spite of the considerable difficulties of creating underground control organisations from the jungle, it is known that the MCP [Malayan Communist party] is striving continuously to implement directives on subversion in town and villages … “Hence the need to maintain constant watch over the gullible and ambitious opponents [of] the existing regime who are natural and probably unconscious targets for subtle forms of subversion.” Casualty tables, December 1956: “Ranking terrorists eliminated – 8.” “In Selangor a small but important success was achieved when the whole of the Ampang branch, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, was eliminated.” In March 1957: “By the standards of the last year the number of terrorist eliminations may be considered satisfactory.” The killing of Tan Fuk Leong: “by aerial bombardment, may presently ease the situation in North Negri Sembilan [sic].” “His inspiring leadership of the 3rd Independent Platoon has been a major factor in the preservation of […]
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Historic press release Batang Kali – more to come

Press release 19 March 2014 Human Rights Convention requires inquiry into Batang Kali  massacre says Court of Appeal, but uncertainties over its enforceability in UK courts deny victims a remedy The UK’s Court of Appeal led by its second most senior judge, Lord Justice Maurice Kay, today handed down a judgment on the Batang Kali massacre case. It represents a turning point in the sixty five year campaign for justice by survivors, family members and thousands of supporters in Malaysia. At their appeal hearing last November, four family members of the 24 unarmed civilians shot dead by British soldiers at Batang Kali village argued that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights imposed a duty on the UK to commission an independent inquiry, despite the killings having occurred before the Convention was drafted and signed. Noting that the important principles on which their case was based had never before been tested in a UK court (judgment, para 71), the Court of Appeal today held it was “probable” their case would succeed in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (para 83), adding “the appellants have forged the first link in the chain” (para 85) to establish an […]
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The London Review of Books review by Neal Ascherson (extracts)

Back to article page Neal Ascherson Massacre in Malaya: Exposing Britain’s My Lai by Christopher HaleHistory Press, 432 pp, £25.00, October 2013, ISBN 978 0 7524 8701 4 The first thing to know about this big book is that it’s not really about the ‘massacre in Malaya’, the crime the media sometimes call ‘Britain’s My Lai’. Only a few pages deal in detail with the Batang Kali killings in December 1948, when a Scots Guards platoon executed 24 perfectly harmless Chinese plantation workers. Instead, Christopher Hale – a journalist with long experience reporting from Germany and South-East Asia – has put together a massive history of the British presence on the Malay peninsula. He tries to explain the outbreak of the jungle guerrilla war which began in 1948 (‘the Emergency’), to look at the politics behind that war and to identify the dire, lasting effects of the Emergency on independent Malaysia. That’s not to say that Hale has simply pasted ‘Massacre’ on the cover to help the book sell. This is a pungently hostile history of British colonial strategy and tactics in the region, and he obviously feels that Batang Kali is somehow representative of that history. Hale sees behind that crime a sequence of ignorance, short-sighted callousness and […]
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Batang Kali – the Appeal

24 unarmed villagers shot dead, six confessions by the British soldiers responsible and two aborted police investigations. Will the UK’s Court of Appeal end the 64 years of injustice that surround the Batang Kali massacre? John Halford, a solicitor acting for the families of the Batang Kali massacre victims sets the scene for next week’s Court of Appeal hearing. On 11 December 1948 a platoon of Scots Guards surrounded and entered the Malayan village of Batang Kali.  They directed its inhabitants, unarmed workers on the local rubber tapping estate, into their ‘Kongsi’ longhuts, separating the men from the women and children. The following morning when the Guards left, the huts were in flames and the bodies of 24 of the men, aged 17 to 70, lay in groups nearby, riddled with bullets.  One had been beheaded. To this day, this atrocity has been the subject of no Government apology and no acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Nothing whatsoever has been done for the families of those killed. And by 1970 UK civil servants were circulating a memo predicting that the massacre would be quietly forgotten about. They were very wrong. Next week the UK’s Court of Appeal will hear an appeal by […]
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THE BOOK IS AT LAST AVAILABLE

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Massacre-Malaya-Exposing-Britains-Lai/dp/0752487019
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The arguments about Chin Peng continue

Geoff Wade has published a very good piece about the controversies that followed the recent death of Malayan communist leader Chin Peng. Wade makes a number of illuminating points. He argues, rightly I think, that the matter of Chin Peng reflects social fissures and political cleavages in modern Malaysian society. The torrent of vilification has been mixed with hagiography. Was Chin Peng a traitor or freedom fighter? Should he be erased from history – or regarded as Malaysia’s Aung Sang? Wade’s article goes a long way to revealing Chin Peng as a real historical agent, rather than spectral bogey man or nationalist hero. I was especially impressed by Wade’s analysis of how the Malayan communists reacted to the failure of the Malayan Union. This narrative is perhaps not as well known outside Southeast Asian departments of history as it should be… The  Union plan had been hatched up in London not long after the fall of Singapore when much of Southeast Asia was occupied by the Japanese. Its authors were members of  the ‘Malayan Planning Unit’. In some respects, the Union plan was a means to harmonize the different semi colonial entities of Southeast Asia – in short as a single […]
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Colonel David Benest reviews ‘The Death of Baha Mousa’

Colonel David Benest, now retired, is an expert on British counter-insurgency (COIN) and atrocities committed during COIN operations. His review of A.T. Williams’ shocking account of the killing of Baha Mousa in Iraq is relevant in many ways to the Scots Guards’ actions in Batang Kali in December 1948.  The essay was written originally for the British Army Review (BAR) but was rejected. I am pleased to be able to publish it here with David’s permission. On 14 September 2003 Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist, was arrested in Basra by soldiers of The  Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (1 QLR) and taken to Battalion Main HQ for interrogation in connection with the murder of six RMP officers. Less than forty-eight hours later he was dead. This account is of how and why this death took place and its aftermath at a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire. The author is a professor of law and Director of the Centre for Human Rights in Practice at the University of Warwick. His account covers three parts – the events in Iraq of 2003 (148 pages), investigations within Britain (45 pages) and the eventual court martial (76 pages). It is probably the most detailed exposition available […]
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The problem of Chin Peng

The death of Malayan communist Chin Peng has provoked some heated debate in Malaysia. On one side, many have seized the moment to denounce Chin Peng’s role in Malaysian history and reiterate that his remains will never find their way back to his birthplace in Sitiawan in Perak. Chin Peng was in any event cremated in Bangkok. Other reactions range from overt sentimentalism to a reasonable insistence that Chin Peng’s place in history be properly acknowledged. So what’s going on here? Why does Chin Peng’s restless spirit still upset so many Malaysians? He can do no harm to Malaysia now – and he had not offered a genuine threat since the mid 1950s when he fled to the Thai border. So why has the reaction to his death been so divisive and angry? Why vilify Chin Peng now? The majority of his postmortem critics allude to the nightmare scenario of a ‘Communist Malaya’ (presumably not Malaysia) had the Malayan communists won. It is not difficult, of course, to point to the case of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, for example, and imply that ‘it might have happened here.’ In a broader context, communism is the god that failed; Stalin and […]
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Chin Peng has died

News from Thailand today that Malayan Communist Party leader Chin Peng whose real name was Ong Boon Hua has died in a Bangkok Hospital. He was 90. The Malaysian Daily Star quotes some divergent opinions: Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) National chairperson Dr Nasir Hashim said Monday that Chin Peng must be remembered as one of the pioneers in the struggle for independence as he fought against the colonial masters – first the Japanese and then the British. “If history is rewritten, he has a place in the country’s struggle for independence…” Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar: “He was a resourceful leader in difficult times,” he said. Less generously, Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali said: “To me, Chin Peng was not only the head of the violent communist movement but also a criminal. Chin Peng must be erased from history, so that the people especially the younger generation do not know him. There are some black moments in the county’s history that should be taken as lessons but not the history of terrorist and criminals who did harm to the country.” Erasure would be regrettable, Datuk. Chin Peng was an integral part of Malaysian history – whatever view we take of his political beliefs. […]
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