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LONDON: They were just children when it happened 64 years ago but until today, the memory of the bloody incidents at Batang Kali on 11th and 12th Dec 1948 are still clearly etched in their memories, for among the dead were their loved ones.
Today Loh Ah Choi, 71 whose 19 year old uncle, Loh Kit Lin was shot in the stomach, Mdm Lim Ah Yin, 76, whose heavily pregnant mother was threatened by soldiers who shot her father and Mdm Chong Koon Ying, 74, whose father was also shot by British soldiers in the Sungai Remok estate, have travelled all the way from Malaysia to hear the judicial review at the Royal Courts of Justice challenging the refusal by the British government to have a public inquiry.
“We want an apology”, that seems to be their answer when asked by journalists at a press conference held by the families’ UK based solicitor John Halford.
Also present at the press conference were Malaysian based lawyer for the families, Datuk Firoz Hussein Ahmad Jamaluddin and Quek Ngee Meng, coordinator of the Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre.
They claim the alleged massacre has been covered up by successive administrations determined to hide the truth about the UK's colonial past.
According to Halford, "What happened at Batang Kali was an extremely serious human rights abuse, a massacre of 24 unarmed people who weren't in any sense combatants, weren't offering any kind of threat to the British troops who killed them. What followed was a cover-up that has lasted the following 60 odd years to this day, where the British gov ernment has denied that anything untoward happened at all."
The official account of the incident, he added, involving a platoon of Scots Guards, who were conducting military operations against communist insurgents during the Malayan emergency, was that those who were killed were attempting to escape, that they were suspects, insurgents, or that they basically brought their deaths upon themselves.
“The truth is very far indeed from that. These people were killed ruthlessly in a series of what can be described as execution, “he maintained.
Loh was seven when the incident happened. He recalled his uncle, who was on a break from his studies, visiting his parents in the estate.
“It was about 5 in the evening when the soldiers came to our Kongsi. Women and children were herded to one place. At seven, my uncle walked to the vegetable garden. He was followed by a soldier. Not long after that, I heard 3 shots. My uncle didn’t come back, but the soldier came back. So we knew he was dead,” he recalled the incident on Dec 11 1948 – the first casualty of the shooting.
Loh said in spite of everything that happened, he went on to work on the British estates until his retirement.
Mdm Lim was only 11 and the small woman with white hair, speaking in broken Malay, spoke of her terror as she saw soldiers dragging her mother who was then 8 month pregnant.
“They pulled her by the arm and we clung on to the other arm, and when she was led away, we heard shots and thought that they had shot her. But she was spared.” Her father and the other men in the plantation were not so lucky.
“We were asked to get on to a lorry and then we heard several shots fired and then saw flames,” she recalled.
What remained clearly in her mind was the trip back to collect the bodies. She said she had accompanied her mother a week later.
“The stench was really bad. There were worms coming out of the eyes and mouths. The bodies were lying faced down,” she said, the horror etched on her tiny face.
On the same lorry with her and other women folks was Chong who was only 5 during the incident.
“We tapped rubber trees to earn a living. We were not communists, “ she stressed, expressing anger that after the death of her father, she and her siblings were separated because her mother could not afford to feed them. They were all given away for adoption.
“I visit my father’s grave every year. I am not asking for anything apart from an apology. We are poor people,” she said.
According to Firoz, “I think to me the fact that we are going to a British court for the first time is already in itself a victory because all these years they have not got this far. It is very important to realise that they have been without a remedy for so many years, for the first time, they will get a British court reviewing this situation very carefully as a matter of law and considering the events of 1948. This is a significant victory in itself.”
He added, “I would hope that the Malaysian government will also support her citizens trying to obtain justice in an incident which happened during very difficult time in our history. I think so much can be done to ascertain the truth if the two governments worked together. Between them, there is enough information to discover the truth.”
Relentless in their efforts to uncover the truth are husband and wife team who jointly authored the book Slaughter and Deception at Batang Kali, Ian Ward and Norma Miraflor.
Ward was South east Asia correspondent for the Daily Telegraph from 1962 to 1967.
“We are deeply concerned that the British government should be embroiled in a long drawn out, continuous de ception. They knew from the outset what they were doing. I hope our work may change things,” he said earnestly.
During the two day judicial review which starts today, the court will be the very first to see materials from the British and Malaysian police investigations, both of which were terminated prematurely; statements from the soldiers in volved in the massacre; and other first-hand witness evidence.