Anti-Japanese fighter who became 'Public Enemy No. 1'

Anti-Japanese fighter who became 'Public Enemy No. 1'
A 1955 picture of Chin Peng, who was secretary-general of the Malayan Communist Party. One of his last wishes had been to return to Malaysia, but all his applications were unsuccessful.

AT ONE point in his life, Ong Boon Hua was a venerated war hero.

When he was only 18, he was already fighting the Japanese in World War II as part of the communist Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army. London honoured his valour after the war with two campaign medals and the Order of the British Empire.

By the time he turned 27, however, the British wanted the head of the man better known as Chin Peng.

The secretary-general of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was branded "Public Enemy No. 1" on the front page of The Straits Times on May 1, 1952.

His large mugshot was accompanied by a headline promising $250,000 for anyone with information that could lead to his capture. That reward would remain unclaimed.

Chin Peng went into exile in Thailand and was never caught.

The man held responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians and servicemen during the Malayan Emergency died yesterday in a Bangkok hospital. He was 88.

He grew up in a middle-class family in the seaside town of Sitiawan in Perak to a father who ran a bicycle, tyre and spare motor parts business.

As a teenager, he was strongly influenced by Mao Zedong's classic On Protracted War.

He was only 15 when he threw in his lot with the MCP.

His military knowledge was put to devastating use during the Malayan Emergency as the communists launched armed attacks on public property and assassinated Sir Henry Gurney, the British High Commissioner in Malaya in 1951.

In recent years, Chin Peng's frailty became apparent from the few interviews he granted. It became known that he had gout and could not walk unaided.

There were also news reports in late 2011 that he was in a coma.

One of Chin Peng's last wishes was to return to Malaysia.

"I yearn to pay homage to my ancestors... Just a brief visit to their tombs is all I ask," he told the Bangkok Post in an interview in 2009.

But all his applications, including a legal challenge, were unsuccessful.

The Malaysian government said his return could anger those whose family members had been killed during the Emergency.

On Monday, Prime Minister Najib Razak said his ashes would also not be allowed into the country.

chengwee@sph.com.sg

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