Relatives of May 13 Victims Want Access to Classified Info

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A group representing relatives of those killed in the May 13, 1969 riots will submit an official request to declassify documents related to the incident 50 years ago.

The move follows Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s disclosure yesterday that the government has not received any request to do so on the riots, which have been described as the darkest moment of post-independence Malaysia.

Tan Chong Chin of the May 13 remembrance and cemetery preservation committee said the group is meeting today to discuss drafting the official request to be sent this week.

“We hope that with the new government, the truth will finally be able to come out,” said Tan, who is the committee’s treasurer, after a talk in Kuala Lumpur on the 50th anniversary of the incident.

A historian who has written a book on the riots, Dr Kua Kia Soong, meanwhile, said the government should declassify such documents to help Malaysians confront the ghosts of the incident and move forward.

A majority of the Chinese, Kua said, dispute the official version of events and that only 196 people were killed in the riots.

Kua was the speaker at the talk organised by the Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall society.

“If we can have a royal commission of inquiry into the Wang Kelian mass graves, then we should have one for the victims and the families who lost loved ones during May 13,” said Kua, who wrote May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969.

“If we look at the cemetery of May 13 victims (in Sg Buloh), the positions of the headstones (are) very peculiar and to me, it looks like a mass grave. The victims deserve a decent burial,” said Kua, who is adviser of local human rights group Suaram.

“My brother-in-law was a medical student and he was helping the Kuala Lumpur hospital during May 13. He says there were so many bodies who were tarred so that their ethnic identities were hidden.”

The riots saw violence between Malays and Chinese in the heart of Kuala Lumpur and were triggered after the May 10 general election in which the Alliance ruling coalition suffered major defeats.

Parliament was suspended and emergency rule declared throughout the country. The riots also saw the resignation of first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was replaced by Abdul Razak Hussein.

In his book, Kua challenges the official government narrative that the riots were triggered by political parties celebrating their victories in the elections.

According to Kua, the violence was orchestrated by what he described as an “emergent state capitalist class” who wanted to overthrow Tunku Abdul Rahman.

The Selangor menteri besar’s residence in Kg Baru was an assembly point for those who took part in the violence.

Kua said his research is based on declassified diplomatic cables from the United Kingdom’s high commission in Malaysia at the time.

“My research shows the people behind this were not representative of one community but a class of people. It’s a phenomenon that you see all over the world,” said Kua.

The “state capitalists” and their supporters were impatient with Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was from the aristocracy, said Kua. The prime minister was also seen by his opponents as being biased towards the Chinese.

May 13, Kua said, altered the political landscape of the country forever.

In 1968, the police’s first division was made up of 32% Chinese and 22.9% Indians, he said. Today the police force is almost 95% Malay.

“The country needs a truth and reconciliation commission on May 13 so that in words of the current prime minister, we can be at peace with ourselves. We have to put May 13 behind us so that we can move ahead.” – TMI


Related report: May 13, 50th Anniversary of May 13 and Failure to Learn from the Racial Riots