Zaini said he did not not agree with any suggestion or insinuation that Mathew and a police detective, Sjn S.Sagadevan, were killed because of their respective race and religion.
He mentioned that the leader of the group, Amin Mohamed Razali, too had wanted and had tried to kill him, a fellow Muslim and a high ranking army officer.
On Tuesday, after chairing the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council meeting, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said some quarters in Sarawak were angry that an Iban (Mathew) had been killed by Muslims.
He said this was not a case of Muslims attacking an Iban but a criminal act committed by a group of people not supported by the Government and other people.
He said Barisan Nasional component parties were going to the people to explain that the killing of a policeman and a soldier in Sauk by members of the Al-Ma'unah group was not a case of hatred against non-Muslims.
He said he had explained to coalition members that the torture and murder of detective sergeant Sagadevan and army ranger Mathew were purely a criminal act.
The Prime Minister said it was important that Barisan Nasional members were made aware of what had happened so that they could explain the truth to the rakyat to avoid any misunderstanding that the killings were done in the name of Islam.
Later, the Barisan Nasioinal secretary-general Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat told the press that Mahathir's "lengthy explanation on the incident was necessary to clear any misconception that Muslims were killing non-Muslims".
Mohamed said the hostage-taking incident became an issue as out of the four hostages taken captive, only the two non-Muslims among them were killed.
He said: "This is a very critical issue ... religious strife can be more dangerous than racial strife, so it must be avoided."
It is very sad that three weeks after the Al-Ma置nah arms heists and killings, the Prime Ministers had to give a "lengthy explanation" to top Barisan Nasional leaders, many of whom are Cabinet Ministers, to clear "some misunderstanding among non-Muslims" that it was "a case of Muslims going after non-Muslims."
If three weeks after the Al-Ma置nah incident, the Prime Minister had to summon a meeting of the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council to disabuse Ministers and the top leaders of the ruling coalition of such a misconception, is it any wonder that on the ground in the country such serious misunderstanding is widespread among non-Muslims?
In actual fact, such "misconception that Muslims were killing non-Muslims" had been fanned by the Barisan Nasional leadership, its divisive politicisation of the Al-Ma置nah issue and its special brand of "politics of hate" which have poisoned race relations and undermined national unity.
It was Mahathir himself, for instance, who had said more than once that the killing of Mathew and Sagedevan was precisely because they were non-Muslims.
Speaking to reporters after opening the Malaysian Structural Steel Association Convention 2000 in Kuala Lumpur on 11th July 2000, Mahathir said "the killing of non-Muslim rather than Muslim hostages by the Al-Ma置nah group was deliberate".
He said: "It did not just happen to be. It was intended that way by this group of people." (Star 12.7.00)
It was on this occasion that after stating that the killing of the two non-Muslim rather than the Muslim hostages by the Al-Ma置nah group was deliberate, Mahathir made the outrageous and irresponsible statement that non-Muslims in the country can be assured of protection against persecution if they continue to support the present government.
He went even further to insinuate that the Opposition and the Barisan
Alternative would persecute the non-Muslims in the country or
even allow non-Muslims to be killed, when he said:
I had said at the time that if the DAP or any Barisan Alternative leader had made such a similar insinuation in public, declaring that non-Muslims can only be assured of protection against persecution if they support the Barisan Alternative, implying very clearly that the Barisan Nasional would persecute the non-Muslims, the DAP or the Barisan Alternative leader concerned would not only be denounced by all the mainstream media, both printed and electronic, police arrest and criminal prosecution would have followed for sedition, publishing false news, criminal defamation, etc.
But in Malaysia, the Prime Minister of Malaysia enjoys immunity from such horrendous consequences of the law which would have been visited on an Opposition leader who had said the same thing against the Barisan Nasional.
It is a waste of time to ask Mahathir to apologise and withdraw his "don稚 play with fire" statement but it is a positive sign that the Prime Minister has realised the "fire" he has started with the irresponsible politicking of the Al-Ma置nah issue and the Barisan Nasional special brand of politics of hatred against the Opposition.
The country would not have been plunged into a new round of racial and religious polarisation in the three weeks after the end of the five-day Al-Ma置nah arms heists and killings if the Barisan Nasional government had responded to Opposition calls that all political parties forswear partisan politics on the Al-Ma置nah issue.
On 9th July 2000, I had urged Barisan Nasional and Barisan Alternative leaders not to turn the issue into a partisan political football to score petty political points, but to regard the issues highlighted by the Al-Ma置nah arms heists and killings as of overriding national interests which are of great concern to all Malaysians and political parties.
I had stressed that political leaders must respond to the issues raised by the Al-Ma置nah arms heists not as UMNO, MCA, MIC, PAS, Keadilan or DAP leaders but as leaders representing all Malaysians regardless of race, religion or political affiliation who cherish security, peace, harmony and tolerance in our multi-racial and multi-religious nation.
But these calls, including my proposal for a Joint Barisan Nasional-Barisan Alternative Committee to work out a bipartisan national counter strategy to prevent the recurrence of the Grik arms heists and the Al-Ma置nah hostages and barbaric torture/murders and to effectively address the grave issues raised by them were ignored when the Barisan Nasional leadership decided to launch and later escalate a divisive strategy to politicise the issue against the Opposition.
The Barisan Nasional may have reaped some dividends from its divisive strategy to politicise the Al-Ma置nah issue but it is at a great and unacceptable cost to nation-building, especially in the spheres of inter-ethnic, inter-cultural and inter-religious relations.
I call on the Barisan Nasional to end its divisive politicisation of Al-Ma置nah issue and its special brand of "politics of hate" and to accept the offer of co-operation by the Barisan Alternative to transcend party politics to commonly address the aftermath of the Al-Ma置nah issue so that Malaysia can mobilise the support of all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion and political beliefs to effectively stamp out violent religious groups, restore inter-ethnic and inter-faith understanding as well as send a clear message out to the world that Malaysians are going to be more united instead of being more divided after the Al-Ma置nah arms heists and killings.