BANGKOK, Oct 14 – Years of living on the move and in the jungle have exacted a toll on the man known as Chin Peng.
The former secretary-general of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) now stands with a stoop. He is unable to keep his posture upright and slides down on the cushion when seated for too long.
Pained by gout, he shuffles about unsteadily on socks-clad feet encased in well-padded sandals, leaning heavily on the arms of distant relatives who accompany him wherever he goes. He is on medication for the condition and has to follow a strict diet. His skin sags on his large frame.
These days, he dreams more and more of sitting in the little coffeeshop in his hometown of Sitiawan, Perak, where he can enjoy a cup of tea with kaya on toast and catch up on life with old friends and older school teachers, he told The Malaysian Insider here in an interview.
He last saw his relatives – his siblings, nephews and nieces – in Singapore two years ago in a reunion that brought together his clan, the Ongs, and his late wife’s family, the Lees.
He still keeps in touch with his compatriots in the CPM who were allowed home, like chairman Abdullah CD. The last contact was through an e-mail exchange earlier this year. Failing health on both sides prevents visits.
The man born Ong Boon Hua is homesick.
But the Malaysian government has not allowed him to return for a variety of reasons despite inking two peace treaties with him and the Thai government in 1989, effectively marking the end of the insurgency.
Chief among them is to spare the victims and survivors of the bloody, brutal communist campaign during Chin Peng’s insurgency from having relive the nightmare years.
“THIS IS CHIN PENG. The brains behind the terrorism in Malaya, he is worth $250,000 to anyone who has information which will lead to his capture,” blared a front page caption under his mugshot in The Straits Times on May 1, 1952.
The bounty posted by the colonial British government would be worth millions in today’s ringgit, Chin Peng’s lawyer, Chan Kok Keong, estimates.
There are also claims today that he will lead another communist uprising against the government if he is allowed back.
But Chin Peng – who today has reverted to his birth name – denies them.
While he maintains that he is still a communist, he says he was done leading “any group to challenge any government” from the day he inked the agreement to lay down arms in Haadyai on Dec 2, 1989.
He admits to having always had some reservations that the government may not live up to its end of the bargain but explained that, at that time, he had observed the government’s attitude during negotiations and saw they were “sincere” in seeking peace.
When asked today, Ong said that it is possible to arrive at peace through talks instead of violence with a victor-vanquished ending, but added that all sides must be able to sit down at the table on an equal footing.
He also pointed out that reaching an agreement was one thing; experiencing the effects was another.
“After that, another matter whether they stick to their promise and honour the treaty, you see,” he smiled.
“I prefer not to touch on old wood,” he added, indicating that he wished to drop the subject.
He just wants to be able to go home and live the rest of his life in peace, he stressed.
He is nearing the end of his tether with challenging the government, too, he hinted.
Asked how far he plans to take his last legal fight to go home, Ong thought deep and long before saying: “I have no intention to bring the case to the International Court.”
“I don’t see any hope the International Court can force the Malaysian government to change their attitude,” he replied after another long pause.
Asked about his plans to write a second book, Ong smiled.
“I’m getting older and older,” he said and paused. “My memory is also getting quite poor now,” he added, and paused again.
“It will take time to review in the proper order,” he went on. “Besides that, I think it’s better not to get into an argument anymore,” he continued.
“People may not agree with me and then debate on it. It’s useless to do these things unless it is unavoidable,” he said.
Asked what he meant, he explained: “People try to provoke you. Then I have to reply. Can’t keep quiet.”
But when pushed to give an example of what he would do if he was allowed to return home but was confronted over his past actions, Ong looked visibly distressed.
He frowned, rubbed his face and pinched the bridge of his nose repeatedly.
“I try my best not to worry about that,” he said, finally.
He tires easily. It has been a long time since he last spoke to reporters.