Malaysia's most well-known former communist guerrilla, who has lived in exile for five decades after leading a bloody insurgency against British rule, is in a coma at a Thai hospital, a person close to his family said Saturday.
Relatives of 86-year-old Chin Peng have been visiting him in Bangkok since he was hospitalized last month, the person said on condition of anonymity because he was not at liberty to comment on behalf of the family.
They fear "he is on his deathbed," the person told The Associated Press.
Chin Peng, an ethnic Chinese whose real name is Ong Boon Hua, lost a legal struggle in recent years to be allowed back into Malaysia. Government leaders insist his return would upset many Malaysians who lost their loved ones during the communist insurgency.
Chin Peng first gained public attention during World War II, when he and other guerrillas provided the bulk of resistance to the Japanese occupation after Allied troops were swept from the Malayan peninsula and Singapore.
After the war, the communists mounted a nationalist fight against colonial rule in the country then known as Malaya. Leading a 10,000-strong force, Chin Peng faced some 70,000 British, Australian, New Zealand, Fijian, Gurkha and other British Commonwealth troops in the jungles between 1948 and 1957, when Malaya was granted independence.
Some 10,000 people are believed to have been killed during the period known as the Emergency, the bloodiest time in the country's modern history.
After independence, Chin Peng continued to fight the Malaysian government. But with the dragnet closing in on his jungle hide-outs and his Marxist-Leninist campaign losing steam, he fled to China in 1960. From there, he went to southern Thailand with hundreds of fighters loyal to him.
Malaysia signed a peace treaty in 1989 with the insurgents, but persistent suspicion among authorities about communist ideologies prevented Chin Peng from ever coming back.
Chin Peng began a court battle in 2005 to force the government to allow him back into Malaysia. The country's top court eventually ruled he cannot return unless he first produces birth and citizen certificates, which his lawyers say were lost after being seized by British authorities in the 1940s.
If Chin Peng dies, his family hopes the government will let them bring his body back for a funeral in his northern Malaysian hometown, where his parents are also buried, the person close to his relatives said.
In 2008, the Brussels-based International Association of Democratic Lawyers urged Malaysia to allow Chin Peng to return home, saying he was being denied the right on "very technical grounds."