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Tuesday, March 24, 1998 Published at 13:16 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Malaysia gets smart with boat people
image: [ The first passport with a built-in microchip is now available in Malaysia ]
The first passport with a built-in microchip is now available in Malaysia

The Malaysian authorities are stepping up efforts to stem the flow of boat people from Indonesia using a "smart" passport and a naval blockade.

Four navy ships, 30 police boats and four aircraft are patrolling the west coast of Malaysia according to reports in The Star newspaper.

Hashim Mohammad, who is directing operations, said 30 boats had been chased away by the flotilla of naval and police vessels since last Friday.

Five 'tekong' boat captains and 96 Indonesians have been detained, and Mr Hashim said that only one landing had been reported since the operation began.

Immigrant smugglers punished

Six boatmen in the south of the country have each been sentenced to three years in jail and fined $13,000 (50,000 ringgit) for harbouring illegal Indonesian immigrants.

The local court also ordered that the six men receive five lashes each.

Since January, Malaysia has detained more than 18,500 immigrants, more than double the figure for all of last year.

Smart passport part of ambitious plan

The Multi-Purpose Card launched on Tuesday is one of the flagship applications of Malaysia's "Multimedia Super Corridor."

The card has a chip in it to store the user's picture, thumbprint and other information.

It will be available in limited quantities initially, and will cost users no more than a conventional passport.

By the time of its commercial release, planned in 2000, it is expected to also store medical information, driving license details, and government records.

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