As Malaysia celebrated 50 years since independence... in a small village across the border in Thailand… the family of Chin Peng were in mourning.
He was a Malaysian independence fighter and fierce communist guerrilla.
He has died at the age of 90.
But in Malaysia feelings about him are deeply divided, says retired general from Thailand, Akanit Muansawad.
“The people who don’t like Chin Peng, maybe they suffered from Chin Pengs activity, but some of them respect Chin Peng as a leader, he’s a hero.”
A young Chin Peng fought alongside the British against the Japanese during World War II.
He was honored with an OBE, or Order of British Empire.
But in 1948 he began a struggle to establish an independent Communist state. About 10,000 people are thought to have been killed during The Emergency, as the insurgency came to be known.
It was a campaign of jungle warfare that resulted in accusations of brutality on both sides.
A peace agreement was signed in 1989 and Chin Peng lived the rest of his life in exile.
His funeral took place in Bangkok.
Here his family, friends and comrades came to pay their respect.
Lao Chiang was one of his comrades.
“The authorities hunted me for a few years and officially put me on the wanted list in 1954. There were wanted posters of me all over the place. So I left and went up the hill into the forest.”
Lao Chiang is also barred from going home.
“I couldn’t go back to Malaysia after my mother passed away. I have to surrender myself if I want to go back, I have to write a confession. They won’t allow us to even visit our family. I’d rather not surrender and not go back, I’ve dedicated my entire life to fight the revolution.”
Even in death Chin Peng will still not be allowed in.
Najib Abdul Razak is the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
“You mustn’t forget the victims of the Communist; they are very, very emotional about what had happened and how many people who have died. And so many people who have been wounded, and people who have lost their livelihood and so forth. And so there is great emotional outpouring against bringing his body to be buried in Malaysia.”
But this isn’t the opinion of everyone.
Several members of parliament in the opposition as well as those in the ruling coalition believe that his remains should be allowed to be brought back to Malaysia.
Tian Chua, an opposition MP, attended his funeral.
“Our evaluation of his role in the country, whether we agree or disagree over his ideology or his form of struggle we must recognize that he is a part of Malaysian history. He and his generation shaped what we are today, together with many of the other leaders in South East Asia they shaped the map of South East Asia.”
Akanit is a retired General from Thailand.
He was involved in fighting against the communist party along the border.
He is one of the few who forgives Chin Peng.
“I fought against the communist. One year I lost about 50 of my soldiers. 30 died, 20 wounded, under my command. But I can forgive him.”
But whether forgiven or not it seems as the decision has already been made.
Recently as Parliament convened, Malaysia’s Home Minister Zahid Hamidi gave his reasoning on why the remains will not be allowed in.
“Our stand is very firm. As mentioned by the Prime Minister, that the ashes cannot be brought back. It’s not so much about the ashes but some group of people will be constructing memorials or some other form of recognition.”
And it’s a decision which members of the now defunct Communist Party, including Lao Chi Peng, feel to be unjust.
“I think the Malaysian government did not honor their word. They did not write off the past as promised in the peace treaty. They signed on the paper but they violated the treaty, we did not. We honored it.”
But for the family, it is a decision that is being respected for now.
Chin Peng’s nephew has said that they will not smuggle his ashes in, contrary to news reports, as he deserves to return in a more dignified way.
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