Obituary: Chin Peng / Malaysian rebel called 'senior surviving guerrilla'

Oct. 21, 1924 - Sept. 16, 2013

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Chin Peng, a Communist guerrilla leader whose tenacious, bloody struggles for an independent Communist Malaysia pitted him against Japanese invaders, British colonialists and finally the government of what had become his own newly sovereign nation, died in exile Monday in Bangkok. He was 88.

Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, said the cause was cancer, quoting a retired Thai military commander who had acted as a liaison between Mr. Chin and the authorities. Mr. Chin had lived in Thailand for many years.

Mr. Chin was the last surviving revolutionary leader to have successfully fought for independence from colonial rulers in Asia after World War II -- a cohort that included Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Sukarno in Indonesia, Aung San in Burma (now Myanmar) and Norodom Sihanouk in Cambodia. When he finally laid down his arms in 1989, Mr. Chin was called "the world's senior surviving guerrilla."

Chin Peng was the nom de guerre of Ong Boon Hua, who had joined with the British to battle Japanese troops after they invaded what was then British Malaya in 1941. His honors for heroism included the Order of the British Empire.

But after the war, as the newly named head of Malaya's Communist Party, he ordered an armed insurrection against the British colonial rulers, and when Malaya became independent of Britain in 1957, the insurgency morphed into a fight against the new government.

(Malaysia, consisting of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore, came into being in 1963. Singapore became independent of Malaysia in 1965.)

"I suppose I am the last of the region's old revolutionary leaders," Mr. Chin wrote in his 2003 memoir, "My Side of History." "It was my choice to lead from the shadows, away from the limelight."

He may not have actually had a choice. By the mid-1950s, the British had effectively put down the Communist offensive, although a final peace agreement would not be signed until 1989. Mr. Chin disappeared, although his voice was heard on broadcasts of the clandestine Malaysian Revolution Radio. Then he fell silent, and it was assumed that years of living in the jungle had taken their final toll on him.

It turned out that in 1960 he fled to China, the principal backer of the Malaysian Communists, who themselves were mainly ethnic Chinese. He later moved to Thailand. After the 1989 peace pact, he tried to return to Malaysia but was refused entry.

Ong Boon Hua was reported to have been born on Oct. 21, 1924, in the Malaysian state of Perak. His father, an immigrant from Fujian province in southeast China, made a good living selling and repairing bicycles, and sent him to English-language schools, where he excelled. Attracted to communism as a means of fighting prejudice against Chinese-Malayans, he joined party youth organizations at 15.

Soon he left school and went to work for the party, which assigned him to lead three anti-Japanese organizations for students, teachers and shop assistants. After the Japanese invaded in December 1941, he became a liaison to British commandos. The Associated Press reported in 1989 that John Davis, a British officer, said of him: "Unusual ability, and commanded the natural respect of men without fuss or formality."

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