KUALA LUMPUR • A clash 32 years ago between Malaysian police and followers of the main Islamist party that killed 18 people in a remote village in Kedah is back in the spotlight, putting an uncomfortable glare on the role of then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The deputy president of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, said the government should set up a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) over the Kampung Memali incident, just like it did with the 1980s foreign exchange losses by the central bank.
"PAS urges the formation of an RCI to re-examine the Memali tragedy, to give justice to all parties and to clear the names of the innocent," he said in a media statement yesterday.
The issue was spotlighted this week following a fracas on Sunday at a so-called Nothing 2 Hide forum in Selangor, featuring Tun Dr Mahathir, after he answered a question about the police siege of the Kedah village in 1985 and the deaths of 14 villagers. Four policemen were also killed in what is today dubbed the Memali Incident.
One of those killed was the group's leader, Mr Ibrahim Mahmud, better known as Ibrahim Libya, who was also a PAS leader. He was declared a "martyr" by PAS.
The police had said the villagers blockaded the area from being cleared and were armed with parang (machetes). Dr Mahathir left the village siege to then Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam.
What is the Memali Incident?
In November 1985, 200 policemen laid siege to Kampung Memali, in remote Baling district in Kedah state, near the Thai border.
They wanted to arrest Ibrahim Mahmud, known widely as Ibrahim Libya, a fiery preacher who was also a local leader of opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
Ibrahim had been accused of "deviant teachings" and he was to be arrested under the tough Internal Security Act. He received part of his education at the University of Tripoli in Libya, hence the nickname.
The villagers, many of whom were padi farmers, blocked the road leading to the village with logs and other objects. Some were said to be armed with parang (machetes) and other weapons to resist the arrest.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who became prime minister in 1981, was reported then to be in China, and the operation was handled by his deputy prime minister and Home minister, Tun Musa Hitam.
There were conflicting reports later of whether Dr Mahathir was in Malaysia at the time of the incident.
Four policemen and 14 villagers, including Ibrahim, were killed, when the police moved in. Dozens of others were arrested by the police.
Now widely dubbed Insiden Memali, or the Memali Incident, it remains one of the bloodiest clashes involving Malaysians and the Malaysian police. PAS calls it Tragedi Memali or the Memali Tragedy.
Mr Musa was blamed for the deaths.
PAS declared Ibrahim Libya a martyr.
As Dr Mahathir was giving his reply to the Memali case at the forum, shoes and water bottles were thrown at him from the floor and two flares were lighted up. Chairs were also thrown around in the Selangor hall.
FOR THE SAKE OF JUSTICE
PAS urges the formation of an RCI to re-examine the Memali tragedy, to give justice to all parties and to clear the names of the innocent.
PAS DEPUTY PRESIDENT TUAN IBRAHIM TUAN MAN
If you come with machetes and kill police officers, then you must be willing to face retaliation by the police. The police have to defend themselves.
DR MAHATHIR MOHAMAD
Said PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang: "Everyone is pointing fingers, blaming the other party and forgetting that what sparked the chaos (at the forum) was the explanation of the Memali incident, which was not satisfactory."
His statement was posted on Tuesday on the website of PAS organ Harakahdaily.
To Dr Mahathir's supporters, the focus on the 1985 event is part of the Najib administration's agenda to make voters turn away from the 92-year-old politician, who now leads the four-party Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance.
Opposition party PAS has been working with its former enemy, Prime Minister Najib Razak, to weaken Harapan.
The former premier is already being investigated by a royal commission that was set up recently to look into billions of dollars in losses in the 1980s by Bank Negara when it used Malaysia's currency reserves to play in the forex market.
The combative Dr Mahathir has said he will not be cowed by the forex probe or the forum fracas.
Yesterday, he was featured in a video put up on his party's website, giving his view on what happened at the village that day.
His answer to why over a dozen villagers were killed: "If you come with machetes and kill police officers, then you must be willing to face retaliation by the police. The police have to defend themselves."