Malaysia bid to deport illegals from Indonesia turns bloody

MALAYSIA'S efforts to deport illegal immigrants turned bloody and ugly yesterday when hundreds of Acehnese at three detention camps rioted.

The scene of fiercest resistance took place in Semenyih where about 200 immigrants armed with makeshift weapons and iron rods fought with police personnel and set fire to three block of flats, just as an operation to send them back home began at 1 am.

When things returned to normal some hours later, the death toll read: one policeman and three illegal immigrants. More than 40 others, mostly police personnel, were injured. Residents in a nearby residential area said that gunshots broke the quiet of dawn. In the morning, blood-splattered shields used by riot police were seen outside the camp.

Speaking to reporters after the event, police spokesman Superintendent Ghazali Amin said: "The immigrants were aggressive and armed with sharpened iron rods." After a 20-minute clash, order was restored. Trouble was not limited to this camp, which is about 35 km south of the capital. Police said that immigrants at: Lenggeng in Negeri Sembilan also fought with police personnel.

In the confusion, 247 inmates escaped. By press time, 17 had been recaptured. Macap Umbo in Malacca ripped down a fence and charged at police officers. Earlier, security personnel had used water cannon and teargas to force the inmates out of the barracks and into waiting trucks.

It is learnt that immigrants at these camps had learnt of the simultaneous operation to deport them and planned the resistance. All of them are Achenese, who over the past two years have sought political asylum here, saying that they were caught in the middle of the violence between Indonesian security forces and separatist rebels known as Gerakan Acheh Merdeka.

A spokesman for the Aceh Sumatra National Liberation Front told reporters that the immigrants were prepared to die rather than be deported, where they faced death or imprisonment. Most of the rioters at the three camps did not get their wish. About 500 illegal immigrants, including women and children, were herded into a convoy of police trucks and sent to Lumut in Perak, where an Indonesian navy vessel was berthed.

The spokesman alleged that inmates inside the Semenyih camp were drugged to ensure a peaceful deportation but the plan backfired. He also claimed that more than 20 Acehnese had died.

Both these pieces of information were dismissed as nonsense by Malaysian police. Supt Ghazali said that Acehnese were targeted in this deportation exercise. Asked why, he replied: "Because they have been here for too long." Asked how the inmates died, he said: "During the riot. Cause of death? The doctor will decide."