Britain says “No” to Batang Kali heirs
Sixty years after the incident and a recent submission of a memorandum to Queen Elizabeth II and the British government, the Batang Kali massacre action committee described the official rejection of a public inquiry on the incident as “very dissapointing”.
This was despite the statements given by the soldiers and also a British Broadcasting Corporation documentary aired in 1992, that interviewed the soldiers and Malaysian eyewitness of the Dec 12, 1948 incident that left 24 unarmed Malaysian Chinese men between the ages of 18 and 50 dead – all shot from behind.
The 13 surviving families are seeking an official apology, monetary compensation and a memorial to be constructed in honour of the deceased.
They also want the British government to conduct an independent public inquiry into the incident but do not intend to press criminal charges against the soldiers.
The action committee submitted a petition to Queen Elizabeth on March 25, and again on Dec 12, 2008. They received an official response from the British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Boyd McCleary, who issued a two-paragraph statement last Wednesday.
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence have given your petition to Her Majesty the Queen careful consideration. I have been asked to reply as Her Majesty’s representative in Malaysia.
“In view of the findings of two previous investigations that there was insufficient evidence to pursue prosecutions in this case, and in the absence of any new evidence, regrettably we see no reason to reopen or start a fresh investigation,” McCleary said in his statement.
Poser over credibility of previous probes
The action committee’s coordinating lawyer Quek Ngee Meng (center in photo) said the reply did not take into account the inherent unsatisfactory and incomplete nature of the previous two investigations in 1949 and 1970.
“There were four sworn statements from the soldiers involved confirming they had misled the 1949 investigations where they admitted there was an intentional killing of unarmed civilians who were not trying to escape,” said Quek, whose father lives in Batang Kali.
“Since this had not been rebutted, it is still good in law and raises serious doubts as to what actually happened.”
Quek also said that the 1970 investigation was halted prematurely but admitted that there was a substantial conflict of evidence among the soldiers involved, and no statement or interview was ever taken from the Malaysian eye-witnesses Chong Foong and his wife Tham Yong.
He also said there was no process of body exhumation and forensic examination done on the victims.
Stressing that the surviving families are not seeking criminal trials, Quek said they only wanted a public inquiry and had instructed the committee’s lawyers in United Kingdom, Bindmans LLP, to write a pre-action protocol letter to the British government to demand an inquiry be held.
“The earlier investigations were of a criminal nature but we are not asking for criminal prosecutions as it has been over 60 years. All we want is an inquiry to determine the true facts, an apology, compensation and a memorial to the victims.”
A brief history
On Dec 11, 1948 soldiers from the Seventh Platoon of the Scots Guard entered the Sungai Rimoh rubber estate in Batang Kali, Selangor.
They were carrying out operations against communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency period.
The Malayan Emergency had been declared by the British colonial government following the killing of three European planters at Sungai Siput, Perak on June 16, 1948.
When the soldiers entered the rubber estate, they accused the villagers of aiding the communists and executed one man. They then separated the men from the women and children.
The women and children were removed on trucks and the men were interrogated. Twenty-four of them were killed the next day. The soldiers burned the village.
According to eye-witnesses, the men were unarmed and did not attempt to escape.
However, an official inquiry dated Nov 1, 1949, concluded that: “the suspects (the 24 villagers) would have made good their escape had the security forces not opened fire.”
The issue again resurfaced on Feb 1, 1970 when the British newspaper The People ran the story, including sworn statements from British soldiers.
The newspaper report claimed that the soldiers had received prior instructions to kill the villagers and that the soldiers were given the opportunity to opt out of the action.
The soldiers also told The People that the villagers were shot without trying to escape and that the 1949 investigation was deliberately misled.
Following these revelations, which created an uproar in UK, the British government launched a new inquiry which was closed by the incoming Conservative government later that year, citing insufficient evidence.
Demanding a public inquiry
Quek, who was accompanied by action committee vice-president Lu Chong Heng, and secretary, Fu Seong Foh, said it was vital the British government hold a public inquiry on the matter.
“We have instructed our lawyers to push for the inquiry under the UK Inquiries Act 2005. They were the colonial government at that time and should be held responsible to hold the inquiry.
“This concerns a portion of Malaysia’s history and Britain cannot run away from withholding the truth,” he said.
He said the inquiry would help clear doubts over the incident and also clear the names of the affected family members.
Quek said they would bring this issue to Culture, Arts, Heritage and National Unity Minister Shafie Apdal, who is chairperson of the executive committee of Commonwealth of Nations parliamentarians.
“The committee hopes to bring this matter to Shafie next month so he could refer it to his fellow Commonwealth parliamentarians,” he said, adding in the past it had brought this matter up with MCA’s Michael Chong and DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang.
Asked on the amount of compensation the committee was looking at, Quek said the committee would be asking for £80 million (RM400 million) but a civil suit had yet to be filed.
According to AFP, an official with the British High Commission confirmed that the demand for an investigation had been rejected but declined further comment.