ON THE morning flight from Bangkok to Singapore two weeks ago, Chin Peng followed the flight path eagerly.
As the Thai International aircraft travelled across southern Thailand into western Malaysia, he turned to Ian Ward, seated next to him, and described how it had felt to fight and live in the jungle areas where the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) had been active.
During the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960, he and his fellow communists had fought over the country’s destiny, first with the British, and then with the Malaysian government. That struggle came to an end in 1989 with the signing of an accord in Thailand.
This month, Chin Peng, the former secretary-general of the CPM, was visiting Singapore after 56 years. Accompanying him were Ward and his wife, Norma Miraflor, co-authors of his memoirs, Alias Chin Peng: My Side Of History.
The Singapore Government lifted a ban to allow him to visit here for three days and speak at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
In an interview with The Straits Times, Chin Peng, who was born Ong Boon Hua in Sitiawan in Perak, said that it was a “tremendously emotional experience” for him to have returned to Singapore after so many years.
Speaking by telephone from Thailand on Thursday in his first interview with the Singapore media since his surprise visit, he said he was delighted to be able to exchange ideas with a range of Singaporeans. He mentioned two of them by name.
One is local World War II heroine Elizabeth Choy, whom he visited at her MacKenzie Road home.
He said that he admired her courage in trying to help Allied prisoners of war during the Japanese Occupation.
“She was and is pro-British,” he said. But he did not hold her views against her, he said of the 94-year-old.
Although his and Choy’s paths diverged, he said of his meeting with her this month: “Choy and I both recognised that the past is not just lapsed time in our case. It is history. And history holds valuable lessons for everybody.”
Responding, Choy told The Straits Times that she recognised that he wanted to fight for freedom and justice.
Reconciliation was also on his mind when he met Jean Marshall, the wife of Singapore’s first Chief Minister, the late David Marshall.
In his book, Chin Peng gives his view of failed peace talks in 1955 between the communists and leaders of Malaya and Singapore that became known as the Baling talks. He writes that Marshall, who was at the talks, criticised the CPM’s campaign as one of hate, violence and brutality.
Nevertheless, Chin Peng said on Thursday he was delighted to have met Mrs Marshall, 78, during his visit here.
She had written to him soon after his memoirs appeared last September to say that her husband had wanted to meet him before the Baling talks but had been stopped from doing so by the British.
Contacted on Thursday at her Balmoral Road home, Mrs Marshall said her husband was deeply opposed to communism, but he had great respect for the devotion which Chin Peng and other communists displayed towards their cause.
Chin Peng, on his part, said that he receives “countless letters and e-mail” from former adversaries these days.
For example, he has established “a very meaningful exchange” with a senior retired Australian military officer, whom he would not name.
“When he was a young soldier serving in Malaya, he spent many months trying to track me down and kill me. Of course, I realise we were out to eliminate him as well, if we could,” he added.
He noted, his association with him now was one of mutual respect. As time goes by, such former adversaries learn to recognise that “there is another side to the war”. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network
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