Thursday 2 October 2003

Malaysia bans rebel leader's book
on British 'atrocities'

By Alex Spillius, South East Asia Correspondent

Four decades after the end of the Malayan Emergency the defeated commander of the communist insurgency against the British has written his autobiography, only to have copies of it seized by the Malaysian authorities.
The resulting controversy has put Chin Peng, 79, one of the first post-war revolutionaries to be dubbed a "terrorist leader", back into the spotlight after years of living in obscurity in southern Thailand.
His 527-page book, Chin Peng - My Side of History, claims to be unique in describing the 1948-1960 Malayan Emergency from the rebels' perspective.
Described at the time as the leader of a ruthless and blood-soaked force, he uses the book to accuse British and government troops of atrocities.
Customs officers late last week seized 900 of the first consignment of 2,000 imported into Malaysia, but missed the rest.
Officers from the home ministry's censorship department then raided a bookshop in Kuala Lumpur, informing staff that the title was banned and removing every copy.
All 600 other copies distributed throughout the country were then voluntarily withdrawn from the shelves.
The home ministry has given no reason for the seizure and has not yet officially outlawed the book.
The move surprised Ian Ward, the co-author and Singapore-based publisher.
Last month he agreed to supply the manuscript to senior members of the Malaysian police special branch as a matter of courtesy.
Two weeks later the manuscript was returned and Mr Ward was told they had found the book "very interesting".
Elements of the Malaysian establishment may have found the idea of letting the old enemy have his say intolerable, or may simply have acted out of habit.
They may object to the book's most provocative chapters, which examine the practice of chopping off the heads and hands of dead Communist guerrillas for identification purposes and record keeping, defended in an official communique by Lt Gen Gerald Templer, the British high commissioner.
Chin, who was for a time the most wanted man in the British Empire, draws on not only his own memories and research, but declassified British documents.
Mr Ward, a former correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, said Chin wrote openly about the excesses of his own side in a bitter campaign fought in stifling jungles and oppressive heat.
Chin wrote: "This book is neither a boast nor an apology. It is an invitation to understand how beliefs are formed and how conflicts can start and run unabated."
The conflict was sometimes called the "Virgin Soldiers' War" because hundreds of thousands of British and Commonwealth national servicemen were deployed.
Mr Ward said he received many interested inquiries from ex-servicemen, with only a small minority venting their hatred of Chin.
"It is without question a controversial book as the history of the Emergency has always been written from the Western side," Mr Ward said. "But I can see no possible reason why it should be impounded as it is basically a historical document."
Chin was trained by the British to fight the Japanese occupation and awarded the OBE for his services.
But he turned on his mentors and launched an armed struggle by the Communist Party of Malaya, beginning with the murder of three planters in 1948.
Britain successfully deployed a vast army against the communists along with new anti-insurgency measures. The Americans later attempted to imitate some of the British measures during their Vietnam campaign.
After the Emergency - a euphemism for what was a full-scale war - Chin moved to southern Thailand where the party fractured, often murderously.
In 1989 he officially disbanded the CPM but was refused permission to return to Malaysia. Mr Ward said: "He wants to go home desperately."