By Neville Spykerman
KUALA LUMPUR, July 12 — A painful but necessary final chapter surrounding the deaths of 24 rubber tappers who died at the hands of the British Army in 1948 may soon be unveiled.
The British government, whose representatives met lawyers representing families of victims in London on July 3, are considering holding an inquiry more than 60 years after the Batang Kali massacre occurred.
Lawyers Datuk Dominic Puthucheary, Firoz Hussein and Quek Ngee Meng who met officials from Britain’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said a decision would be made on August 14.
During the meeting Puthucheary said he urged the British government to have the “moral courage” to hold the inquiry.
The victims were unarmed villagers who were rounded up by Scots Guards during an operation against the Communists, before they were shot and killed.
Despite eyewitness accounts, including from Scots Guards, the British government has never acknowledged the killings as a massacre.
This decision by the British to reconsider an earlier stand, announced in January rejecting calls for an inquiry, is being viewed with cautious optimism by the lawyers.
Lawyer Firoz Hussein says the change in attitude is due to recent court rulings there, which favour inquiries in cases of civilian deaths in Iraq, involving the British Army.
Last Monday, the MOD conceded in a High Court the need for a fresh independent inquiry into the deaths of Iraqis in Basra in 2004, after allegations they were tortured and killed by British troops surfaced.
According to Firoz, the shift towards upholding human rights in Britain, only strengthens the case for an inquiry into the Batang Kali massacre.
The victims were officially regarded as “bandits” by the British and the time had come for the truth to be revealed so family members could have closure, he said.
According to Quek, only four local witnesses to the tragedy are alive today while in Britain eight members of the Scots Guards platoon remain.
Among them are two out of four former soldiers who have previously admitted to the atrocity.