Thailand's former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh turned up to pay respects to the late communist leader Chin Peng on Monday, just before his remains were cremated in That Thong temple in Bangkok.
The retired general, who was one of the key people involved in the Thailand-brokered talks that ended communist hostilities in Malaysia in 1989, hailed Chin Peng as a hero for fighting for his country's independence, before a crowd of about 200 people.
He was joined by military counterparts Pisarn Wattanawongkiri, Kitti Ratanachaya and Akanit Muansawadt at the ceremony just before the cremation.
Chin Peng, whose real name is Ong Boon Hua, led the armed struggle of the Communist Party of Malaya against the colonial British authorities and then the Malayan government after 1957.
Old comrades travelled by plane, road and rail from Malaysia and southern Thailand to send him off. During the four-day wake, some Malaysian opposition politicians also turned up.
They included Ms M. Saraswathy, vice-chairman of Parti Sosialis Malaysia; Mr Tian Chua, vice-president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat; and Kedah's Parti Islam SeMalaysia leader Fadzil Baharom.
Chin Peng died of cancer last Monday at the age of 88. He had been living in exile in Thailand after the 1989 peace accord, and his recent attempts to return to his birthplace in Perak had been stymied by the Malaysian courts on the basis that he did not have citizenship papers.
Malaysian Premier Najib Razak has called him a "terrorist leader" and said that his ashes would not be allowed into the country.
However, the Malaysian Chinese Association, a component party of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, has disagreed, pointing out that the remains of ethnic Malay terrorists like Noordin Mohammad Top were allowed to be buried in their Malaysia hometowns.
Chin Peng's family, meanwhile, has refuted allegations by newspaper Utusan Malaysia that the date of his death was given falsely as Sept 16 to coincide with Malaysia Day to bolster his nationalist credentials. Utusan, owned by the ruling Umno, said that the actual date of death was Sept 15.
On Monday, teary relatives and supporters lined up patiently to place paper flowers on his casket as a sign of respect before the coffin was lit. As smoke emerged from the crematorium at dusk, one of his old comrades muttered: "He's in heaven now."
Former communist party soldier and longtime Chin Peng associate Indrajaya Abdullah, 56, told The Straits Times: "The Malaysian government's words have not lowered Chin Peng's stature. They have only raised it."
Chin Peng provided critical aid to British forces during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in World War II, but later turned against the British to end colonialism in the region.
Historians say his campaign helped to accelerate independence, but the protracted guerrilla war which he continued to wage against the independent country claimed more than 10,000 lives.
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