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Media statement by Lim Kit Siang in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, 12th February 2011: 

Would Opposition leaders have let off Mahathir for two decades if he had broken his assurance before Operation Lalang that they would not be arrested under the ISA?

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has maintained what he said in Tom Plate’s new book “Doctor M: Operation Malaysia – Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad” that he had “actually met all of the opposition members (beforehand) and assured them that they would not be arrested”.

Following my rebuttal that I had never met Mahathir and that he never gave me any assurance that I would not be arrested before the launch of Operation Lalang on Oct. 27, 1987, Mahathir repeated yesterday: “I met Kit Siang and his friends as a group”.

He said he felt some of the political figures did not need to serve detention at that time.

“It was the police who took action against them and I accepted their decision.”

I had challenged Mahathir to name the Opposition leaders he had met and given assurance that they would not be arrested – now reduced to “Kit Siang and his friends as a group” –but subsequently overruled by the police in the Operation Lalang crackdown, but Mahathir has not been able to name anyone of the others.

The simplest rebuttal to Mahathir’s claim would be to pose the question – Whether the Opposition leaders to whom Mahathir had given an assurance that they would not be arrested in an Internal Security Act (ISA) crackdown would have let off Mahathir for two decades if he had broken his solemn word to us before Operation Lalang of no ISA arrests?

We would have ridiculed him as a impotent Prime Minister and Home Minister at the beck-and-call of the Police - which everybody know was not true.

Former Inspector-General of Police Tun Hanif Omar has come out to corroborate Mahathir’s version of Operation Lalang, claiming that “it was entirely the police’s decision”.

If so, can Hanif explain why the UMNO Youth leader at the time, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, was not arrested in the Operation Lalang crackdown as it was the Umno and Umno Youth leaders who were chiefly responsible for creating the racial tensions of October 1987?

Or was Najib in the police arrest list but overruled by Mahathir?

I did pose this question to Mahathir after my release together with Guan Eng from Kamunting Detention Centre on April 19, 1989 – the last two Operation Lalang detainees to be set free after 18 months of detention.

Both of us were released without conditions but there were 16 former Operation Lalang detainees who were subject to restrictive conditions relating to freedom of speech and movement depriving them of their civic and political rights.

In my meeting with Mahathir on 6th May 1989, I had asked Mahathir point-blank why Najib had not been detained if Operation Lalang was allegedly to deal with the racial tensions in October 1987, referring in particular to the Umno Youth rally at Jalan Raja Muda Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on 17th October 1987 with banners displaying slogans: “MAY 13 HAS BEGUN” and “SOAK IT (KRIS) WITH CHINESE BLOOD”.

There was no proper answer from Mahathir, only the typical illogical Mahathir retort: “Who asked you to provoke him?”

Mahathir never told me that it was the Police who wanted to make the Operation Lalang arrests and that he had no choice as Home Minister but to go along.

Despite Hanif’s collaboration, nobody would believe that Mahathir was not the mastermind of the Operation Lalang arrests to consolidate his power position in Umno.

It is public knowledge at the time that Hanif was on his way out, and the man who had the full confidence of the Prime Minister was the then Special Branch Director, Tan Sri Rahim Noor, whom everybody expected to take over as IGP after Hanif. May be, an explanation from Rahim Noor might be more appropriate than from Hanif.

Be that as it may, what is intriguing is why Mahathir is trying to rewrite history as to who was responsible for the Operation Lalang arrests – some two decades after the darkest chapter of human rights in Malaysia.

This is not the first time that Mahahtir had passed the buck of responsibility for Operation Lalang to the police. He did it the first time in August 2006 and I had immediately rebutted him at the time.

*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Ipoh Timor



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