|"Prisoners during the Malayan Emergency: the Foreign Office has produced documents about the deaths of 24 Malaysian men in 1948." (Jack Birns/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)|
By Owen Bowcott
The Guardian, January 25, 2012
"Lawyers representing relatives of 24 unarmed victims who died at Batang Kali, Malaysia, in December 1948 have finally been provided with key Foreign Office correspondence about past investigations and Cabinet Office guidance on when inquiries should be held. Even Buckingham Palace has been pulled into the furore surrounding the fate of the villagers, who were rounded up on a large rubber-tapping estate in the colonial government's counter-insurgency operation against communists, known historically as the Malayan Emergency. A petition to the Queen about the deaths has been handed to the British high commissioner in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and the royal household has replied. The palace, however, has declined to release the text of the letter. The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence have always insisted the villagers were shot while trying to escape detention. The incident has been described by some as 'British My Lai massacre', after the US troop killings in Vietnam. The Malaysian relatives' hopes have been boosted by a group of Kenyan survivors, mostly now in their 80s, who won the right last summer to sue the British government for damages over claims of torture during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising. A judicial review of the government's repeated refusal to hold a public inquiry into the alleged massacre at Batang Kali is likely to be heard in the spring.
The Foreign Office has refused, so far, to release any additional documents from its still unreleased colonial-era archive. The depository at Hanslope Park, near Milton Keynes, contains thousands of files not yet handed over to the National Archives. Previously unseen evidence of atrocities from Kenya did eventually emerge from the Foreign Office store, but the Malaysian files have so far remained closed despite repeated requests. The Foreign Office has promised to review the material, although it says it will take time. Much of what occurred in Batang Kali is agreed. On 11 December 1948, a patrol of Scots Guards surrounded and entered the village, which lies north of the capital. The male villagers were separated. That evening, one of the men was shot by soldiers; the next day a further 23 died. None of the victims were armed and no weapons were found before the killings. Some of the Scots Guards involved in the incident approached a Sunday newspaper in the 1970s with accounts that disputed the official version of a thwarted escape. Scotland Yard detectives subsequently interviewed the men but were prevented from flying out to Malaysia. Solicitors have, unusually, been given access to the police files. Soldiers have also been contacted again by the lawyers but none is expected to give evidence unless a public inquiry is ordered. John Halford, of Bindmans solicitors in London, who is representing the Batang Kali families, said: 'We are not asking for anyone to be prosecuted. The surviving soldiers are too old for it to be considered appropriate. But the families want the state to take responsibility for the actions. It's necessary to get to the bottom of what happened. Extrajudicial executions by British troops have not ceased. There are recent examples [Iraq]. These are people who have been wronged and had no remedy at all. There should be some resolution. These were extrajudicial killings of civilians that were pre-planned. The Dutch government has now agreed to pay families from Indonesia reparations for a colonial-era massacre that occurred around the same time, in 1947. Although [government] solicitors have confirmed that there is material relating to Batang Kali in their secret archives, they say it's not relevant. They won't let us look at it. There was an announcement that it would be publicly accessible, but that commitment hasn't been honoured.' [...]"