PUTRAJAYA: A 29-year-old incident which saw four policemen and 14 civilians killed has ignited fresh controversy following the latest claim by then deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was in the country at the time.
Tun Musa Hitam said he and the then inspector-general of police had in fact briefed Dr Mahathir about the incident after clashes broke out between the police and villagers in Memali, Kedah, on Nov 19, 1985.
According to reports on the Memali incident, Musa, who was also the home minister then, had ordered the police to lay siege on the remote village near Baling to arrest local ulama Ibrahim Mahmud, also known as Ibrahim Libya, who was being protected by hundreds of villagers.
The police blockade was to arrest Ibrahim under the Internal Security Act for being a threat to public security, but it ended with the death of four policemen and 14 villagers.
Yesterday, Musa claimed that he had tried to persuade Dr Mahathir to cancel his planned official visit to China as the Memali incident had occurred in his home state and had involved the Malays.
“I informed him that I planned to table the matter in Parliament the next day.
“Dr Mahathir made the decision to still leave for China,” he said in a statement.
Musa also admitted that as the home minister then, he had laid out a general guide and reminded the police to abide by the legal procedures and to avoid violence and bloodshed.
“But I bear the responsibility and accountability on the way the incident had turned out, even though I was not directly involved (as) I had left it to the discretion of the police to carry out the operation in terms of determining the best time, methods and approaches to perform the operation,” Musa said.
Former information minister Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin, however, had claimed that Dr Mahathir had received news on the incident while he was departing for China.
Zainuddin said at that time he was with a group of other reporters at Subang Airport to cover Dr Mahathir’s visit to China.
The Memali tragedy resurfaced after close to three decades following Musa’s statement in a political forum in Kelantan on March 27, where he said Dr Mahathir was in the country during the incident, contrary to earlier reports which claimed he was in China.