Chin Peng: A divisive figure even in death

Chin Peng: A divisive figure even in death

THIALAND - Few people knew where exactly Chin Peng lived. But friends and followers turned up in Bangkok anyway, bearing what pleasures the frail octogenarian could still enjoy: Chinese meals, ice cream, and short trips to nearby provinces like Chanthaburi.

By the time he breathed his last in Thailand's Bumrungrad International Hospital last Monday, cancer had robbed him of most speech. Yet his face remained serene - the way followers remembered it was some 60 years ago, as he led a guerilla war from the jungles of Malaya.

The quiet death of former communist leader Chin Peng, whose real name is Ong Boon Hua, has however stoked a war of words over his role in Malaysian history.

Was the Perak-born secretary-general of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) a freedom fighter, or a mere terrorist who once had a 250,000 Malayan-dollar price tag on his head?

Malaysia's leaders are adamant it is the latter, and never acceded to his recent efforts to return home, on the grounds that it was part of a Thailand-brokered peace deal signed in 1989 between the communist forces and the Malaysian government.

Chin Peng's death did not change the Malaysian government's position. Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar went to the extent of tweeting that the police would monitor all of the country's entry points to keep his remains out.

For former Malaysian soldier Juhata Mohd Yusof, who saw several fellow soldiers lose their legs to booby traps set up by the communists in the mid-1980s while serving in jungles near the Thai border, the emotional scars run too deep for any talk of forgiveness.

"I spent months in the jungle looking for the communists," said the 53-year-old who now drives a cab in Kuala Lumpur. "His death closed a chapter that cannot be forgotten."

Others, however, don't see why an old man, or his ashes, should be banished from his homeland.

The Malaysian Chinese Association supported the return of his remains, pointing out that even ethnic Malay terrorists had been allowed burials in their respective hometowns.

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