Thursday 22 January 2015

Singapore diplomat rebuts former Coldstore detainee

By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2015

SINGAPORE's High Commissioner to Australia, responding to a second online commentary by former leftist detainee Poh Soo Kai, has accused him of obfuscation and disregard for historical evidence.

Many senior Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leaders have made their own peace with history since the end of the Cold War, Mr Burhan Gafoor wrote.

But he added: "Dr Poh is among the diehards who persist in denying the verdict of history."

Mr Burhan's latest reply came in a letter to the Australian National University's New Mandala website, which ran a Jan 14 article by Dr Poh, 82, who claimed the CPM was a decimated force in Singapore by the 1950s and posed no security threat to justify the 1963 crackdown when he was detained.

That crackdown, Operation Coldstore, has become the subject of an ongoing debate, with several former detainees and historians saying it was politically motivated.

But the Government maintains the arrests were justified as the CPM was a major security threat, and last week accused revisionist historians of distorting history to serve their political agendas.

Dr Poh, who was assistant secretary-general of the Barisan Sosialis, was among 113 left-wing politicians and unionists arrested in Operation Coldstore.

In an earlier New Mandala article on Dec 3, he claimed the arrests were a "set-up" against political opponents of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, including Barisan chief Lim Chin Siong.

Mr Burhan rejected that claim in a nine-page letter on Dec 18, which cited British archives and accounts of CPM leaders to show Barisan was a key tool of the CPM.

Dr Poh then issued his latest rejoinder, saying the arrests were "simply politically motivated to mow down legitimate opposition". He also rejected claims that the Anti-British League (ABL) and Barisan were communist proxies.

A Singapore under the Barisan, Dr Poh said, would have seen freedom of speech and assembly, social justice and economic dignity.

In his letter yesterday, Mr Burhan said that although the CPM's armed insurgency in Malaya had been blunted by the mid-1950s, Singapore still faced the threat of Communist United Front groups, which had infiltrated trade unions and other mass organisations.

He noted that former CPM secretary-general Chin Peng himself said in his memoirs that the party could "amass and maintain a huge following among the working classes" in Singapore by 1959. Chin Peng wrote that left-wing unions and their members "well appreciated they were under the control of the CPM", he added.

Mr Burhan disputed Dr Poh's claim that Barisan was an ordinary political party, saying CPM leaders like Mr Eu Chooi Yip had themselves confirmed that the Barisan was formed on CPM orders.

He quoted CPM leader Fong Chong Pik, also known as the Plen, who wrote in his 2008 memoirs that the Barisan "stood at the front of the struggle" to launch mass organisation work to expand "our (CPM) strength".

The envoy concluded: "Clearly, the Barisan was the CPM's principal political vehicle and was taking instructions from the CPM."

Mr Burhan said Dr Poh's claim that he did not treat a CPM bomber in 1974 was "disingenuous", as Dr Poh gave medical aid to the injured bomber through a former detainee, who said in a public statement that he asked Dr Poh for medication for the man and Dr Poh obliged.

"Interestingly, Dr Poh does not deny that he had supplied medicine surreptitiously to the CPM in the 1970s," he added.

Mr Burhan also refuted Dr Poh's claim that Mr Lim Chin Siong was not a CPM member, but an ABL member. CPM and ABL activists acknowledged in their memoirs that the ABL was a CPM-directed underground organisation formed to further the communist cause, he said.

Hundreds of millions suffered misery and deprivation under communist regimes, resulting in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc in 1989, Mr Burhan added.

"Yet Dr Poh asserts in all seriousness that Singapore would have enjoyed a glowing future if the communist-backed Barisan had gained power."

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