Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May 13 - some personal stories

Today when I woke up I didn’t even remember it is May 13, the anniversary of THE May 13, until I peeped at the website of my blogging mate Susan Loone.

As usual, Susan always presents intriguing posts. Today her post consists of only one short sentence: Where were you on 13 May 1969? and what a host of response she received.

I too left a couple of mentions there, based on what my uncles told me.

Then when I read Malaysiakini this evening I see May 13: Pakatan Rakyat wants truth unearthed.

The Pakatan Rakyat leaders want an South African styled ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ over the riots on that fateful day in 1969, nearly 40 years ago. They reckoned it would be important to uncover the ‘real’ (and not official) facts behind the killings on May 13 1969.

Lim GE said May 13 should be treated as a chapter in the history which will make the people appreciate the value of democracy and justice, and that it shouldn't be, nor allowed to be manipulated by any irresponsible party, such that it would haunt Malaysians and our politics. I am sure we know who he was referring to.

For me personally, I have heard stories from my uncles and their friends. As recent as early March this year when I was in Penang to vote, that occasion sparked off another round of them reminiscing of an election in 1969. Invariably the KL riots were recounted.

May 13 was a KL localized riot, though there was some but limited fallout elsewhere. But essentially the greatest and probably only horrendous effect was felt in KL (and some parts of PJ).

This morning I posted a comment at Susan’s place which said (I have modified some of those words, corrected my grammar, expanded a wee bit, to make it more readable to all):

“My uncle had a British friend whose wife (a British qualified nurse) participated as a volunteer worker at a KL hospital. She was there on the evening of that terrible day. What she saw totally traumatized her, not so much because of the numerous deaths but by the sad observation that so many of the victims were primary school children. She said the bodies flowed out of the mortuary and were stacked up high in other adjoining rooms …”

The following is a record of their (my uncles' & friends') memories, as accurate as I can put them down in words, and I have limited their stories to KL/PJ incidents:

"The riots started off in the evening, just around the time school children were dismissed from school. Many of those unfortunate children were caught in the mad slaughter. The worst scene apparently was at the roundabout between the Kampung Baru and Chow Kit areas."

"The fighters charged up without warning from Kampung Baru into Chow Kit area, dressed up in bamboo armour (protecting their chests), machetes and spears. Many Chow Kit residents and visitors were killed in that attack."

The story of fighters from Kampung Baru is substantiated by a Malaysiakini report last year when some of those fighters, by now elderly men, were interviewed by the online news portal and revealed what they (as Malay gangsters) did during the riots.

"On the other side, it took the very people whom the Chinese hated, the Chinese Triads, to rise to that occasion and fought back, driving the Kampung Baru fighters off. The Triads were the only Chinese who were street fighters with arms handily nearby, and had experience of armed combat. For a while, the local Chinese looked up to the Triads as their protectors."

"Initially both ethnic groups suffered losses. The Police and the troops, the multi-ethnic Federation Armour Regiment (???) and Uncle heard, the Sarawak Rangers*, were even handed in their patrol and control of the rioting mobs."

* according to Uncle, the unit was then called the Sarawak Rangers

"All that changed when the government apparently withdrew the FAR and Rangers and sent in instead the RMR. A friend, a UM student, who was caught up in the Chow Kit riot had dashed into the nearest house for cover where he stayed there for a week with the owner and his family, whom he didn’t even know but were kind enough not to ask him to leave during the week-long curfew. They even shared with him the limited food they had during the week long curfew."

"He said there were a couple of occasions when patrolling soldiers just shot randomly into the house he was staying. He could hear them outside laughing away . Needless to say, he was sh*tting bricks. He said that though the curfew was on for a week, he was subsequently informed by Malay friends at the university that many people in Kampong Baru were walking around freely, with the RMR looking on benevolently."

But not all were evil. An Indian uncle, a friend of my Uncle (let’s call him Uncle Aru), told me this:

"He was then a teenager traveling on a bus from PJ to KL. The driver and bus conductor were both Malays. The only passenger on that night beside him was a Chinese boy, a teenager like him."

"At a kampong just opposite Angkasapuri, there was a road block made up of burning cars and scooters. Obviously the road block was not by the police, but by some kampong blokes who were all armed to the teeth. There were some bodies lying beside the vehicles."

"They stopped the bus by which time the Chinese boy was hiding behind/beneath the most rear seats (that was, if he hadn’t fainted from terror). At that time, the Indians were still neutrals so he (Uncle Aru) was fairly safe but even then, didn’t dare make eye contact with the rather ferocious looking men who clambered onto the bus, obviously to search for Chinese."

"But the driver and bus conductor pretended to be outraged, reprimanding the young men who boarded the vehicle, telling them they were wasting everyone’s time when it was ‘obvious’ there was no other passenger than one sole Indian boy."

"He (Uncle Aru) was petrified when the two parties (bus driver & conductor versus the thugs) were arguing rather loudly, but eventually the younger men disembarked at the persuasion of the bus driver. There was no doubt that the Chinese boy was saved by two good men that evening."

I am going to leave it at this story to show while there were killings of unmitigated evil, out of hatred, there were equally good people who showed their virtues of tolerance, understanding and kindliness.

One issue I read over at Susan’s blog was about the government’s refusal to issue a White Paper. I have just checked with my Uncle by phone and he told me that was incorrect. The government did issue a White Paper on the May 13 incident (incident? what an euphemism) which put the blame on the CPM, with the death toll at below 200 (he said something like 167 but today Malaysiakini has a figure of 196).

Many believe it was more than 2,000 with the bodies buried in a secret mass grave. May their souls rest in peace.

(1)The Real Cause of the May 13 Riots
(2)New Fact on May 13 Revealed!


  1. The 1969 riot is a post election riot. The main reason than is the election results and confined to KL/Selangor though sporadic incidents happened in Penang, Ipoh and Johor. But in Kelantan and Terengganu, where the majority are Malays, no single incident was recorded. A White Paper was indeed issued by the government. The details of this riot remain unknown and largely ignored by historians save for a few minor works. Others, like the late MGG Pillai who covered the riot for Reuters made a number of startling remarks, such as a mass grave of Chinese slaughtered in the riot at the present leprosy settlement near Sg. Buloh. The than caretaker government under Tun Razak refused to conduct any investigation. The Tunku later denied such grave exist in his book, but MGG maintained Tunku was genuinely ignorant of the happening. Dr Kua Kia Soong disclosure of ‘new facts’ was not new after all as it was available for readership outside Malaysia and not significant in debunking existing argument.

    Anyway, this is not the biggest racial riot in Malaysia. The massive slaughtering that happened after the British left during the Second World War, and more importantly during the ‘interregnum’, (after the Japanese left and before British came) is massive in scale unknown in Malaya(sia) history before or after. The construction of May 13th riot in the present form is the ‘creative work’ of UMNO leaders to perpetuate their hegemony and justifying institutional racism.

  2. from the content, the government at that time must be the responsible for this hideous act. to me this like "ethic" cleansing and to instill fear for the next upcoming election.......

    google abit find this info:

    "After the general elections in 1959, he became the Minister of Rural Development in addition to holding the portfolios of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense. His achievements include formulating the development policy known as the Red Book. On September 1970, Tun Razak succeeded Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra as the Prime Minister of Malaysia."

    like father like son.....

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. harun idris was reacting to the unnecessary taunting by teh chinese who won the KL eletions. Those DAP winners, especially Lim Kit Siang, urinated on the Malaysian flag and showed their private parts in front of harun idris' house. How vile and rude those ppl were. Lim Kit Siang was very much Singaporean at heart. The DAP supporters at that time made banners showing caricatures of 'malays being sweeped out from KL'. If i was there, I wouldn't mind spitting on Lim Kit Siang's face at that time.

  5. 'Post Election Riot' thats why it keeps on coming every election as reminder from UMNO. The only difference is, those who are below 45 years old may not able to imagine the riot except in description, as such not that valid a currency for the present or forthcoming elections.

  6. I'm really not sure if we should dredge up the ghosts of the past.
    The country may not be ready for the truth.

    Nobody really believes the government's official death toll.

    Members of UMNO's leadership were definitely involved in instigating the violence. But there were elements in the DAP, Gerakan (an opposition party at the time) and the then Labour Party who weren't innocent parties either.

    An attempt to reopen an inquiry into the events could easily deteriorate into another political slugging match.

  7. kk46, there was no Labour Party in 1969 - most Labour members like the late Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon, who was one of the founding leaders of Gerakan, became members of the new 1969 party.

    Maybe you can provide examples of how DAP and Gerakan were "instigating the violence", in the very meaning of those words you used, "instigating", "violence", and "instigating the violence".

  8. In the context of the May 13 1969 incidence in Malaysia, no democratic Malaysian leaders had ever chosen to resort to violence in order to obtain absolute powers in this country.

    But, according to a white paper - The Path Of Violence To Absolute Power - being tabled in Parliament by Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, on 8 November, 1968, it was elements of the CUF which had planned to resort to violence in order to achieve an absolute power in Malaysia in 1970s.

  9. Ktemoc,
    The Labour Party of Malaysia chose to boycott the May 1969 elections, but it was most definitely still in existence and active. The party was forced into deregistration by the Government AFTER the events May 1969.
    It got (unfairly) blamed for the events of May 13. If any political party should have been punished, it should have been UMNO.

    I wrote "elements in the DAP, Gerakan (an opposition party at the time) and the then Labour Party who weren't innocent parties either." No more, no less. I consider elements in UMNO as the main culprit, but they were not the only people involved in the game.

    I did not write that DAP instigated the violence, but they were definitely not innocent.
    On May 12, 1969 a DAP/Gerakan-organised victory parade entered Kampung Baru, and a number of unfortunate actions were made, which helped inflame the anger among Malays.
    Many photographs from the event are on public record, around the world.

    Since you are in Australia, if you have the time, please look up the Microfilm records of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Melbourne Age newspapers from May 10 - May 22, 1969.
    They are available FOC at the State public library, certainly in Melbourne where I was once a university student. I remember a student just had to pay a small registration fee, and per copy if you wanted to make on-line printouts.

    There were detailed and I think quite balanced reports on the events in Malaysia, until the point foreign correspondents were kicked out about 2 weeks later.

  10. In 1969 there was no more the Federation Regiment. These multi racial regiments were called Reconnaissance Regiments, whereby the sub units were know as Squadrons. They were equipped with the Ferret Scout Cars, with the standard rifle being the Belgian FN known as the Self Loading Rifle, which has a 20 round magazine. The unit to deploy from Kroh was the 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment, C Squadron was the first. They were withdrawn and replaced with the 5th Royal Malay Regiment. My eldest brother was a member of C Squadron. I do not want to go into the details, which my brother related to me. The details would make you sick.

  11. Ranger,
    Individual soldiers and possibly junior officers in the 5th Royal Malay Regiment "went out of control".
    I don't think there was any specific conspiracy in the Command, but what happened, happened. In the army, the Chain of Command is accountable, right ?

    At the time the Australian Army, especially, still had very close links to the Malaysian Armed Forces, and some sharp messages were sent that they (RMR) had to get their troops back into line or it could become an international scandal.

  12. Junior Officers are 2Lt - Captain. They have OC's who are Major's. They have a CO who is a Lt Col. Tell me the fantasy that they had no idea that their charges were running riot? There was Farelf, which was known as thh Far Eastern Land Forces, the bulk of it was British. Where did you get the fantasy that the Aussie Army sent sharp messages? ...and would they care a fcuk?

  13. Ranger,
    There were things I read, not in this country. The 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade was based in Terendak, and Australia had intelligence operatives in Malaysia at the time. Between the Brits and the Aussies, they had some idea of what was happening.

    Surprising amount of information is publically available, things which retired officials, both military and diplomatic, have written, but in bits and pieces. Certainly not available in any one book or magazine. Anyway I don't have the citation of the sources, I read it years ago, and certainly couldn't bring back copies into Malaysia.

    I have no idea how far up the chain of command the Royal Malay Regiment's behaviour goes.

  14. kk46, there's a world of difference between the actions of being "provocative" and "instigated" - please reflect on them.

    and I go along with ranger that the foreigners would have kept their diplomatic mouths shut. The military aren't and weren't supposed to be dabbling in (including commenting on) the domestic affairs of a host nation without clearance from their own Minister, and if any Australian minister were to comment, surely it would have been the Foreign and not the Defence Minister

  15. The root word of provocative is "To Provoke".

    Provoke and Instigate are synonyms - go look up Roget's Thesarus - pretty much the Gold Standard of Queen's English for Synonyms and Antonyms.

  16. I did mention any attempt to reopen an inquiry into the events could easily deteriorate into another political slugging match.

    There's already a mini-online version here, ah ?

    DAP Supporter Ktemoc and You-Know-Who supporter me...hehe..

    Pax Vobis Cum

  17. If Lim Kit Siang is the real culprit, he should leave the country like Goh Hock Guan who was the SG at that time. Why don't you split at him when he was around in Malaysia? It is still not late for you to do now? But you are like BN Nato over Bosnia - complain and NATO.

    Anyway, there was a white paper and was publish in NST in series. They put the blame on Communist for stirring the fire.

    I saw fire and smoke burning about 1 to 2 miles away in Chow Kit Road and Jalan Kamunting Area At times, the soldiers will fire if people are trying to peep out of the window.

  18. kk46, synonyms may only be nearly or almost of same meanings, but definitely not 'provoke' and 'instigate' if used, as I mentioned, in the very meaning of those words you used, "instigating the violence". The context is very important.

    To provide simplified examples:

    To 'provoke' (as according to Prof Khoo, the Gerakan did in 1969) would be "Nah nah nah, eat sh*t, you UMNO losers!"

    To 'instigate violence' (as you alleged) would be "Go on, bash him up, beat the sh*t out of him, kill him!"

    There's a world of difference between the two actions

  19. You forgot Nakba day?

    PA President Mahmoud Abbas joined dozens of Palestinians in signing a document pledging to continue the "struggle" until all the Palestinian refugees are permitted to return.

    'Israel has failed in wiping out the memory of the nakba [catastrophe] from the minds of successive Palestinian generations," Abbas declared. "They [Israel] thought that perhaps the elderly would forget. But today we see that neither the elderly nor the young have forgotten. Everyone remembers the nakba."

    Palestinians living in Lebanon have been urged to march on Israel's northern border Thursday as part of "Nakba Day." The event has been named the March of Return.

  20. I didn't exist yet in 1969, but after reading from various sides telling the story, I concluded that two main factors were the trigger that launched that tragedy. First, it was the extreme elements present in some of the opposition parties, ie Labour Party, DAP, and Gerakan. Being a splinter party from LKY-led PAP party that split from Malaysia earlier, many DAP members were naturally suspicious of Malays. While Labour Party was a left-leaning organization, attracting many communist sympathizers. One fact should be known was that in 1969, the war against communism was at full swing, notably near our backyard, Vietnam. These elements viewed Tunku's government as a proxy for British-American imperialism so they were against it.

    Second factor refers to the extreme elements in UMNO/Perikatan itself. There were people who took the notion of Malay supremacy a bit too far. Sadly they were also influential personalities in the party. People such as Mahathir, Harun Idris and others were clearly opposed to Tunku's ways. They wanted to impose Malay dominance in every aspect possible, explicitly. They saw the '69 GE performance as a perfect premise to topple Tunku, so they did, realizing that only a mayhem involving the public will persuade Tunku to dismantle what he has built before.

  21. Please read K.Das and the Tunku Tapes, available at Perpustakaan Kuala Lumpur.

  22. natural instincts of any race if they feel their future's under threat...only one side was the victim? The Chinese triads must be a boy scout organisation then, eh?