KUALA LUMPUR – A newly restored World War II memorial in Malaysia sparked anger and calls for its demolition Tuesday after a sign described three Japanese soldiers honored as “heroes.”
The Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia in the early 1940s was marked by brutality, and bitter memories still linger even after Tokyo made reparations and built friendships with its former enemies since the war.
Funded by Japan, Malaysian authorities restored the long-neglected stone monument built in 1941 in Alor Setar, capital of the northern state of Kedah, in a bid to bolster tourism.
It was originally built by the Japanese in honor of three soldiers who were killed while securing a strategic bridge to cut off British and other Allied troops.
However, a sign that accompanied the restored monument inaugurated last week bore the title: “History Of Three Japanese Heroes Who Conquered The Alor Setar Bridge.
Lim Swee Bok from the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) on Tuesday led some 15 supporters to the Japanese Consulate in the northern state of Penang and handed over a letter demanding the monument be torn down.
“It only reminds us of the painful era of Japanese occupation,” Lim told AFP.
The Japanese occupied Malaya — modern-day Malaysia and Singapore — for almost four years from December 1941.
The Star newspaper Tuesday reported that MCA members had draped black cloth over the monument covered with the words: “Heroes monument for those who fought Japan.”
The newspaper also published a photo of the monument surrounded by five large red banners bearing the slogans: “Japanese soldiers not heroes,” “Killing, raping and beheading locals” and “Japanese soldiers are cruel.
Anger was also expressed online.
On the Malay Mail newspaper’s Facebook page, reader Keke Lim said the Japanese were “aggressors who committed atrocities … and crime against humanity.
Reader Lim Hong Meng said calling the soldiers heroes makes Malaysia a “laughing stock … especially in ASIA (which) suffered the cruelty and brutality of Japanese army.”
Mohamad Asmirul Anuar Aris, the state tourism committee chairman, apologised for an “error in translation.”
He said the sign has been taken down but rejected calls to demolish the memorial.
“It has been there since 1941. Furthermore we are trying to bring more tourists to Kedah and it is part of our attempt to upkeep historical sites,” he told AFP.