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MASSACRE IN MALAYA



THE soldiers came to the village at five in the evening. It was a small place, housing workers on a rubber plantation. The soldiers rounded up the inhabitants, questioned them about Communist bandits and Communist sympathies. At six o'clock, they shot the first of them: a man named Loo Kwei Nam. The interrogations of the others continued until late into the night.

At seven o'clock, they separated the women and children. They locked them into one of the houses, a communal dormitory. It was to be the last time those women were to see their menfolk  alive.

Next morning, the women were taken away on a lorry. As they drove away, they saw, down by the river, the soldiers shooting the 24 men of the village - shooting them in the back. Then the village was burned.

It is a nasty, horrible story. It gets worse. Two days later, the women dared to return. Smoke was still rising from the ruins of their homes. The bodies of their husbands, brothers, fiances were still down by the river.

They found their loved ones had not only been shot in the back. After death, they had been mutilated. Their heads had been cut off, their genitals smashed


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That was the women's story. Only one man survived from the group of prisoners. His name is Chong Hong. He was lined up with the others to be shot.

He says: 'The soldiers gestured us to turn our backs. We were all standing still, too frightened to move. Then the shooting began and I fell to the ground. I think I fainted from fright.' When he recovered, the soldiers had gone and he ran away. A local police constable told a similar story - of being told not to look if he did not want to see men being shot, of a terrific burst of gunfire, and of dead bodies everywhere.

This was a massacre, carried out in cold blood. A massacre, furthermore, of innocent, unarmed and unprovoking civilians. Is it a story from Vietnam, of Americans out of control? Not so.

It occurred in Malaya, 20 years before that, on December 11 and 12, 1948.

And it was carried out, not by Americans, but by British troops - between ten and 14 members of the Scots Guards . As the regiment now prepares to be deployed to Iraq, it could do without these renewed allegations about its past conduct.

The allegations of massacre at the village of Batang Kali have never quite been proven. But they have never gone away either. Back in 1970, a British Labour government announced an inquiry into the events that took place there 22 years previously. Then a Conservative government came in and the inquiry was cancelled.

The allegation has remained, a terrible stain on the reputation of the Scots Guards. And for all that past and present officers of the regiment have furiously denied the allegations, there were eyewitnesses whose evidence is hard to refute. Three of those witnesses, old and infirmnow, are still alive and still tell the same story. And the allegations have just resurfaced, from a strange source, but causing reverberations at the very highest level.

The Prime Minister of Malaysia said last week in the Malaysian parliament that there was no evidence to prosecute anyone for killings at Batang Kali.

HIS statement is designed to damp down debate, but it does not exonerate. It says only the obvious - that after 56 years, there is no possibility of a successful prosecution against any of the individuals involved.

Did Scottish soldiers really carry out a deliberate, cold atrocity against defenceless unarmed villagers in a Malayan rubber plantation? Did they really line them up, in groups, and shoot them in the back? Did they mutilate their bodies? And did officialdom lie and lie and lie about what happened that day?

Malaysia was Britain's Vietnam - a long, protracted guerrilla war against communism in South-East Asia. They called it the Malayan Emergency but it was actually a fully-fledged war. It lasted from 1948 to 1960.

There was one great difference between the two engagements, though. Unlike Vietnam, Malaya was a war that was won. It took time - 12 long years - and it took effort, a hard learning of strategies and of warfare in jungle and leech-infested swamps.

And it took lives - the security forces, the Army and the police lost 1,865 men. Many of those were National Servicemen, young men sent out from Britain with little more knowledge than basic drill and sometimes not even that. That is why they called it the Virgin Soldiers' War.

CIVILIAN casualties were even greater. Four thousand Malays were killed or wounded by the Communist army, some for no greater crime than possessing a government- issue identity card.

There was torture as well. Any Malay who took even a minor government or civil service job was at risk. Eleven Chinese photographers were murdered simply for taking pictures for ID cards. One was pegged out in the sun to die of thirst, with dry rice stuffed in his mouth to increase his torment.

In 1952, the worst year for police casualties, 350 policemen of all ranks and races lost their lives in action.

But in the end the Communist army was comprehensively defeated, and withdrew. The Communists later reported that, on their side, more than 6,000 died, 3,000 surrendered and 1,286 were captured.

Independence for Malaya came under a democratic, not a Communist, system - and today Malaysia is one of the wealthiest, and one of the most aggressively capitalist, societies in the region.

Ghosts haunt the U.S. experience in Vietnam. My Lai is a name that still shames America: a village where soldiers went in deliberately to slaughter, and without discrimination. The Scots Guards, too, have their ghost: Batang Kali. And it has raised its head again to haunt them.
Chin Peng

The source of its latest surfacing is another aged veteran of the Malayan campaign, but of a rather different type. Ching Peng is the man who led the Malayan Communist army, the so-called CTs or Communist Terrorists, all those years ago. He had been taught jungle warfare Some of the information in this article may not be verified by . It should be checked for inaccuracies and modified to cite reliable sources.

Jungle warfare
 by the British during World War II. With British arms and a British officer, as a 20-year-old he had led his guerrilla bands against the occupying Japanese - to such good effect that at the end of the war Lord Mountbatten awarded him the OBE. After that, though, he turned against the British.

Peng was a man who undoubtedly ordered killings and tortures. It was the cold-blooded murder, on his instructions, of three rubber planters in June 1948 that set the whole armed conflict into motion.

At one time, despite his OBE, he was the most wanted man in the British Empire. At the end of the Emergency, he disappeared into the jungle. Chin Peng is still alive. He is 82 now. For much of the past decade he has been living quietly in Bangkok, writing his memoirs. The book came out earlier this year and has been a best-seller in Asia.

IT IS, he says, neither boast nor apology, but an account of events from the losers' point of view. It uses, as well as his memories, recently-declassified British archives; and in it he repeats the story of Batang Kali, with additions. It was, he says, not done by soldiers out of control but was ordered, in advance, from a very high level.

So we have two incompatible accounts of the events at Batang Kali. Both accept that 26 men died.

The official British account is that they were Communist prisoners intent on escape. Others, though, deny this. According to their version, the dead were innocent Chinese rubber-tappers, unarmed, who found themselves in the wrong place, at the wrong end of soldiers' anger that they had done nothing to provoke.

Chin Peng in his book says that not one of the villagers was a Communist nor a member of his army.

It did not help that the British Government changed its story.

The first account given by the authorities was that Scots Guardsmen on patrol captured 26 Communist bandits, though without suffering casualties themselves, and that the prisoners next morning tried to escape.

The dead, said the official version, had run onto the soldiers' guns.

That version was rapidly abandoned when it became clear that the dead had been shot from behind. The second British version was that one prisoner was shot on the night of December 11 while attempting to escape. The others attempted a mass breakout next morning and the Scots Guards gave chase. They opened fire when the escapers ignored orders to stop running. It was never disputed that those who were shot were unarmed.

The key witness against this story is Chong Hong, that one survivor from the group of prisoners.

Jonathan Kent  reporting for BBC Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondent, went to Batang Kali this year to seek him out. He found an old man still convinced that what he called 'the spirits' saved his life that day.
 
KENT spoke as well to Chong Hong's wife, also elderly, also frail. She tells a more detailed story. Soldiers came to the plantation, she says, in trucks, and accused the villagers of giving food to the Communists.

Loo Kwei Nam had a receipt for the sale of some fruit. That was why he was singled out first. 'They shot him here,' she says, pointing to the small of her back.

Another old woman found by Kent is the widow of the then estate manager. She saw her husband led out and shot with the others. It was the Malay police constable, who did not come from the village, who spoke of bodies lying everywhere.

Here are two clearly incompatible versions of the same event. Either the prisoners made a run for it, or they were shot in cold blood.

Soldiers who have seen comrades killed, who are perhaps in fear of their lives themselves, who come under fire in the red mist of battle, can do terrible things.

'Suffice to say we were not very merciful - I saw what they did to one or two of our lads,' says one former national serviceman, describing just such a scenario, on a website for veterans of the Malaya campaign.

Peng, though, claims in his book that Batang Kali was more than soldiers going berserk and that there was preplanning at a high level.

He claims that, before the shooting, the sergeant in charge offered his men the opportunity to absent themselves if they did not want to take part in a mass killing.

Peng inists the killing was ordered at a senior level as a deterrent to potential Communist collaborators: 'There can be no other logical explanation for killing so many unarmed civilians in such a calculated, clinical fashion.' There was little about the Malayan Emergency that was pleasant.

Chin Peng's techniques for his guerrillas were hit-and-run Bren gun and grenade attacks on police stations, then melting into the jungle. Peng ordered a reign of terror to intimidate the local populations.

British tactics, too, were not entirely pleasant. Lt Gen Sir Gerald Templar, High Commissioner in Malaya, defended the practice of cutting off the head and the hands of the enemy dead.

Bodies of slain Communists were taken and displayed on tours of local villages. We too wanted to discourage people from joining the opposition.

What really happened that day in Batang Kali is known only to a handful of people, now ageing, in Malaysia, and to a few long-retired former soldiers in Scotland. Those men have lived with their memories. Consciences may be clear, or they may not.

Either way, after long years, the truth is impossible to discover in a way that would satisfy a court of law. It seems the Scots Guards will have to live with a just or an unjust suspicion as the ghost of Batang Kali refuses to go away.



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