Thursday, October 15, 2009

Uncle Yearns For Home


Chin Peng’s last fight — to be buried in Sitiawan

By Debra Chong

BANGKOK, Oct 14 — Ong Boon Hua, once the country’s “Public Enemy No 1” for leading a bloody communist insurgency before laying down arms 20 years ago, says he only wishes to die a Malaysian and be buried next to his grandfather and father in Sitiawan, Perak.

“Call me Uncle Ong,” the frail-looking old man with thinning, white hair told The Malaysian Insider in an interview here this week.

Better known by his alias Chin Peng, he was the last leader of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and is once again at the centre of much controversy in Malaysia, the land of his birth.

He wishes to go home but the Malaysian government will not let him.

Last month, he challenged the government for going back on the agreement with him and the Thai government, made 20 years ago in Haadyai to allow all Malaysian communists who desired it to return home and live in peace.

The High Court in Kuala Lumpur tossed out his suit without calling for a trial.

Judge Datuk Balia Yusof Wahi ruled that Ong was suing the government for defamation but had no grounds to argue his case because it was a known fact that he had committed “evil” acts during the 12 years of the Emergency after World War Two (WW2).

Several key players who brokered the deal on behalf of the Malaysian government, including former Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Rahim Noor, who were waiting to testify in support of Chin Peng – or ”Uncle Ong” as he wishes to be known now – never got their day in court.

Speaking to The Malaysian Insider at the hotel where he is put up, just next door to the British High Commission here, the anti-colonialist explained why he is so adamant about returning to Sitiawan, Perak.

“It’s my birthright,” said Ong, who will be turning 85 in five days.

“I’m getting older and older. My home is in Malaysia,” he said, rubbing his hand repeatedly over his face.

He added that he wishes to spend the rest of his twilight years catching up with his family and his childhood friends on home turf, and to be laid to rest beside his grandfather and father.

When asked why he did not simply slip back into the country as he did years ago as a guerrilla fighter, if he truly wished to go home and lead a peaceful life, Ong shot back: “You mean by smuggling in?”

Ong, who has been described by both his former enemies and allies as an “honest man” appears unable to abide anything less than “honourable”, even as the front doors to his return are being shut and barred one by one.

His suit against the Malaysian government, he claims, is two-fold: to get legal recognition as a lawful citizen of Malaysia; and to gain lawful recognition as someone who has contributed to the country.

He sees himself as a “resistance fighter” and a third-generation Malaysian even though the country went by Malaya before his exile.

“The country is still the same. First, I’m Malayan. But since the country has changed to Malaysia, so I’m Malaysian. I can’t say I don’t want to be Malaysian,” he laughed.

But he still holds to his communist faith.

“Communism is an ideology. Being a communist is fighting for the welfare of poor people,” he explained.

Asked if he viewed US President Barack Obama’s statement to “spread the wealth” as akin to communism, Ong nodded his head and laughed, seemingly tickled by the irony.

His views on communism, however, have mellowed over the years.

Some parties have painted him as anti-monarchy.

Ong no longer sees a need to copy the People’s Republic of China and oust the sultans from their posts as rulers in Malaysia.

At breakfast this morning, he was approached by a Malaysian lawyer, who sought his views to petition Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to allow him home.

Chin Peng, is sorely disappointed with the Malaysian government for breaking its side of the two peace contracts made with him and the Thai government in 1989. — Picture by Debra Chong

Ong neither agreed nor objected to the project.

Najib has hinted that Ong is unlikely to be allowed home because of the overwhelming objection against him as the leader of an outlawed political party that perpetrated atrocities against Malaysians — largely against the Malay community.

Ong who has been “homeless” for decades feels he is blocked from stepping foot on Malaysian soil because of the race factor.

“If I’m Malay, it would be very much easier for me... Unfortunately, I’m not Malay,” he said.

“Umno’s policy is very much influenced by ‘racialist’ sentiments,” he added.

Ong is sorely disappointed with former premier, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, for failing to do anything to enable his return during the latter’s administration.

The Haadyai peace accords were signed in 1989, and according to insiders, was mooted by Dr Mahathir.

“But I don’t know the real situation. Maybe he was under much pressure,” Ong said.

He is aware that the legal avenues are fast closing.

Is there a Plan B?

Ong rubs his face while considering the question. After a long pause, he replies: “No. No Plan B. Have to persist to go back.”

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