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Crucial Death March witness dies
Published on: Friday, May 26, 2017

Kota Kinabalu: One of only two remaining star witnesses of the 1945 Death Marches, Zudin (inset), died from breathing difficulties on May 14. He was 87.

It was only found out on Tuesday (May 23), when pioneer Death March trek tourist guide Tham Yau Kong brought a RTM film crew to interview Zudin at his house in Kg Koporon.

"I don't mind to tell you that I wept," said Tham who had developed a special bond with the late Zudin through years of bringing Australian and British Death March trekkers.

Treating him like his own grandfather, Tham always stopped by Zudin's house to see not only a living witness of the infamous 260km forced march from Sandakan to Ranau in which some 2,000 Australian and British soldiers died, but also to see demos of blowpipe wizardry for which Zudin is known.

Zudin became famous following a Daily Express nine-part investigation last October that put to rest the dispute between two Australian war historians, Lynette Silver and Dr Kevin Smith, on the exact route that the marchers took in the mid-section of their jungle ordeal.

Dr Kevin Smith contends that the mid track veered to the right and headed into the Liwagu Valley after Vonod into Melapi, Mangkadait and Miru Kampong (meaning Kg Miruru Lama).

But on the basis of the 1947 Mud Map left behind by the Australian Body Recovery Team, Lynette argued the mid track veered to the left at vonod into the Taviu Valley following the left bank of the Taviu River, all the way up to its headwaters in Lolosing, through a narrow gorge and a big climb up a steep ridge.

Following the dispute, Tham asked Zudin the inevitable question: Who is right – the man (Dr Smith ) or the woman (Lynette). His verdict was: "Perempuan yang betul" (The woman is right).

Zudin confirmed the 1947 Aussie Body Recovery Team's Mud Map as accurate, sound and legitimate as Lynette is only a user of that map to plot where the mid track went. On the other hand, as a porter of bullets for the Imperial Japanese Army, Zudin repeatedly told Daily Express he never carried any ammunitions along Smith's so-called alternate Liwagu Valley route.

After the war, when the body recovery team engaged him to carry skeletons of Prisoners of War, Zudin said they never went into the Liwagu Valley or Miru Kampong to look for bones.

Instead, he remembered picking up skulls near Lolosing and carried them in back baskets waiting bamboo rafts downstream Taviu River for transfer into the Labuk river.

In fact , after four rounds of interviews with Zudin, everyone of the events and experiences and infrastructures that he remembered centre only in Taviu Valley, including being a member of a blow pipe squad that killed some 200 Japanese, not a single incident happened in old Kg Miruru where he came from!

But perhaps the most enduring mantra uttered by Zudin is this: "Ini lah Jipun Pagil Kawasan Milulu!"

(This is the area lah the Japanese called Milulu), pointing to the Lolosing area in the thickly forested ridge-bound headwaters of Taviu Forest Reserve below.

Daily Express even asked him who called the Lolosing area Milulu or Mir. He said: "The kempeitai" (officers of the military police arm of the Imperial Japanese Army) because they would instruct us from where and to where to carry the ammunitions," Zudin said.

So when the kempeitai's order was to send the bullets to Milulu, they meant the big munition dump in Lolosing which is clearly marked in the War Graves Mud map!!

This is the living insider Death March witness's testimony that knocked off Dr Smith's first premise that Japanese Death Cert citing Miru or near Miru as location of death had to mean the one and only 'Miru Kampong' (Kg Miruru Lama) .

Following the dictate of that first premise, he concluded that the mid track had to have headed into the Liwagu Valley towards the Kg Miruru Lama and even crossing a massive Labuk river to Kg Miruru which was located on the other side of the huge Labuk River.

Zudin's living memory clearly testifies to the fungible nature of place names, that is, place names can have their double, triples and much more, such as in Sabah where there is a Maliau River in Gambaron near Telupid and a Maliau River in Maliau Basin and there are over 20 'londons' in the USA.

He told Daily Express in no uncertain terms that there were two Milulu – Kg Miruru of the villagers in the Liwagu Valley and the Japanese version of Milulu centred in the Lolosing area in the Taviu Velley

Smith's starting error is to assume there was only one Milulu interchangeably with Miru or Miruru and so plotted his track to Liwagu on the basis of an erroneous first premise, which baffled the two guys who kept denying they ever went that way.

However, one of Zudin's desired wishes was never fulfilled. Aware that people argued the Death March went into his original Kg Miruru Lama, he offered Dr Kevin Smith, the Sabah Museum and its Ministry, the Sabah Society to talk to him but none of these people took up the offer.

Hence, the Sabah Museum risks endorsing a historical falsehood if they maintain Smith's Kg Miruru-bound alternate route at the Ranau Museum and not rectify it in light of living witness testimonies.

It may still not be too late because the last remaining witness, Death March Track cutter Tuaty Akau is still around.

Top Sabah Forestry Department Officers like Mohd Abu Bakar – DFO for Telupid and Indrah Purwandita Sanjoto, Senior Assistant Chief Conservator of Forests, met and talked to both Zudin and Tuaty on Feb. 18-19 this year and they came away concluding that the separate testimonies of both eye witnesses were totally consistent with each other.

That's the truth the State is left to now uphold. - Kan Yaw Chong



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