British historian admits Batang Kali slaughter, says Chinese associations

News from Malaysia: The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 1 — The British official historian of the Malayan Emergency has withdrawn his official account of the Batang Kali massacre of 24 unarmed villagers by British troops in 1948, said the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia today.

In a November 2010 issue of the Asian Affairs journal, Professor Anthony Short wrote that his brief account of the Batang Kali incident “seems now to have been wrong”.

“Professor Anthony Short, writing in the November issue of the respected Asian Affairs journal, describes the British Army patrol’s mass killing of 24 unarmed Chinese plantation workers in December, 1948, as a ‘matter of dispute, recrimination, dishonesty, disgrace and disguise’,” Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia Tan Sri Pheng Yih Huah told reporters today.

Short, also the author of ‘The Communist Insurrection in Malaya, 1948-1960’, wrote that eyewitness accounts of detonators exploding when the kongsis (traditional meeting halls) were burned may have been true, but could not have caused British soldiers to open fire as the torching of the village happened after the shootings.

“Likewise, burning bamboo explodes and can sound like rifle or automatic fire. But again, this could only have been a reason for the soldiers to open fire if it had happened first,” wrote Short in his article titled “The Malayan Emergency and the Batang Kali Incident” that was made available to reporters.

The 7th Platoon of the G Company, 2nd Scots Guards, reportedly surrounded a rubber estate at Sungai Rimoh, Batang Kali, and shot 24 Chinese civilians before setting fire to the village on December 12, 1948, at the start of a 12-year communist insurgency in former Malaya.

Official accounts describe the villagers, who were suspected guerrillas, being killed as they attempted a mass escape into the jungle, wrote Short.

However, the last Malaysian adult witness to the massacre called Tham Yong — who died in April this year — reportedly said that the soldiers had led the men out in the morning, after locking them overnight in a hut, and shot them in the back.

Following the killings, Yong reportedly found that many bodies had been mutilated with their heads hacked off and genitals smashed.

Short stressed that the families of the massacre’s victims should be given reparation, pointing out that the inquiry on the 1972 killings by British troops of 13 unarmed protesters on Northern Ireland’s Bloody Sunday cost nearly £200 million.

“Is there any reason why a fraction of that amount should not be given to the victims of historic misfortune in Malaysia?” wrote Short, who taught history at the University of Malaya for six years.

Short noted that the four-year research of former war correspondent Ian Ward and his wife Norma Miraflor that was documented in their book, “Slaughter and Deception at Batang Kali”,  resulted in a “proper account” of the stain on Britain’s military history.

“Thanks to their tenacity, we now have a proper account of a story that has been running for more than 60 years,” he wrote.

Lawyer for the victims’ families Firoz Hussein Ahmad Jamaluddin also noted that they were making progress in their journey to obtain justice from the British government that has, so far, not made any prosecutions or launched an official probe since two investigations in 1949 and 1970.

In January 2009, the British Foreign Office rejected a call for an inquiry citing the lack of new evidence. Three months later, however, Westminster was reportedly reconsidering the decision.

“I’m pleased to say we’ve gone further than in the past 62 years,” said Firoz Hussein today.

“They (British government) have told us that they need until the end of November this year to make a decision,” he added.

The lawyer said that a letter before claim had been submitted to Westminster on September 3 this year, asking for an official apology and a public inquiry to determine the amount of reparation for the victims’ surviving kin.

 

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