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Relatives of Malaysian workers killed by UK troops in '48 demand apology

KUALA LUMPUR -- Relatives of 24 Malaysian rubber tappers killed by British troops in 1948 on Wednesday demanded an apology after a London court said that Britain was responsible for their deaths.

They however expressed anger after the High Court judges on Tuesday upheld a government decision not to hold a public inquiry into the shootings.

Quek Ngee Meng, lawyer for the campaigners who have been battling the case since 1993, said they would appeal against the latest court decision.

Although the ruling appeared to give the families a strong case to sue for damages, Quek said “compensation is not the point but a full acknowledgement of the fact.”

“Family members of those killed are now pressing (British) ministers to accept the facts found by the court, take full responsibility for the massacre ... and apologize,” he added.

Last November Britain said it would not hold a formal probe into the Batang Kali killings in then British-controlled Malaya.

But the victims' families filed a judicial review heard in May claiming there is enough evidence to justify an inquiry.

During the hearing, the London High Court was told that British soldiers surrounded the Sungai Rimoh rubber estate in Batang Kali on Dec. 12, 1948, shot the 24 workers and set the village on fire.

The incident, which has been referred to as “Britain's My Lai” after the infamous Vietnam War massacre, happened during the so-called Malayan Emergency, when British troops conducted military operations against communist insurgents.

Although the court concluded there was no legal duty to hold a public inquiry into the killings, it rejected the official position that the government was not responsible as the soldiers were under the command of a Malayan ruler.

The official version at the time was that the 24 victims were insurgents or their supporters who were killed while attempting a mass escape.

The judgment said the troops were under the direct command of the British Army and “it is difficult to see ... why those in command should not be responsible.”

“There is evidence that supports a deliberate execution of the 24 civilians at Batang Kali,” according to the written judgment delivered by two senior High Court judges.

One of the four claimants in the case, Lim Kok, told AFP on Wednesday that anger and regret was shared by all the families who were unanimous in continuing their quest to seek “the full truth.”

“My father was the sole breadwinner, leading my family to grow up miserably,” said the 74-year-old, who claimed the body of his father was found beheaded after the killings.

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