KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — The government is considering holding an inquiry into a 1948 massacre of Malaysian villagers by British troops, reversing an earlier decision to reject a probe, officials said Wednesday.
The about face comes three months after London turned down a request from Malaysian activists to investigate the killings which took place during an anti-communist crackdown when the country was under British rule.
The "Batang Kali massacre" occurred in a village in central Selangor state on December 12, 1948, when 14 members of the Scots Guards killed 24 unarmed ethnic Chinese and torched their village.
"The (British government has) decided to reconsider the decision... that no inquiry would be established or other investigation undertaken into the incident at Batang Kali in 1948," the government's lawyer said in a letter to the activists dated April 24.
A British high commission official who declined to be named confirmed the contents of the letter, but said there was no guarantee a probe would be ordered.
"We must not pre-empt the outcome of the reconsideration process which we expect will take several weeks," she told AFP, adding that she could not say why the decision was being reviewed.
Activists who since 1993 have been campaigning for an investigation, welcomed the decision and urged a speedy resolution to the issue.
"The British government must act quickly instead of simply dragging their feet until the surviving witnesses, who are very old, are no more," coordinator Quek Ngee Meng told AFP, noting that one of the witnesses died last week.
Quek said they had traced nine former British soldiers and four local Malaysians who were witnesses to the events but that this pool will dwindle if the legal process takes too long.
He said the shooting was explained away in 1948 with the then Malayan attorney general saying an inquiry had been held and the troops vindicated, although no trace of this investigation has been found.
The massacre remained largely forgotten until a British newspaper in 1970 ran an explosive account of the killings, publishing sworn affidavits by several soldiers involved who admitted the villagers were shot in cold blood.
The revelations provoked uproar in Britain but a promised investigation was later dropped after a change in government.
The guerrilla war left thousands dead and formally ended only in 1989 with the signing of a peace treaty with the Malayan Communist Party.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »