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Sunday, March 29, 1998 Published at 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Malaysia sends illegal immigrants home
image: [ Illegal immigrants are marched on to ships for deportation ]
Illegal immigrants are marched on to ships for deportation

Matt Frei reports on the deportations from Malaysia (3'04')
Malaysia has deported more than 1,100 illegal Indonesian immigrants and pledged to send thousands more home as well.

The immigrants were sent back on two ships sailing from Klang port, about 30 miles (50 km) from Kuala Lumpur early on Saturday morning, a police officer said.

[ image:  ]
They comprised 995 inmates, including 30 women, from Machap Umbo detention camp in southwest Malacca state and 138 from Lenggeng camp in nearby Negeri Sembilan state, he said, adding that the operation had gone very smoothly.

Indonesian Vice President Bacharuddin Habibie, who is visiting Malaysia, said Jakarta would share equally Kuala Lumpur's costs of repatriating the immigrants.

Mr Habibie earlier voiced confidence in Malaysia's handling of the deportation program despite bloody riots at detention camps on Thursday.

[ image: Habibie: satisfied with the operation]
Habibie: satisfied with the operation
Eight Indonesians and a Malaysian policemen died in the worst clash at Semenyih, some 25 miles (40 km) south of Kuala Lumpur.

Riots also occurred at Machap Umbo and Lenggeng camps, as well as Juru centre in northern Penang state when other Indonesian immigrants from Aceh resisted deportation.

The violence flared as the immigrants tried to resist being rounded up.

Human rights concerns

Malaysia has come under pressure from human right groups such as London-based Amnesty International and US-based Human Rights Watch, as well as local opposition leaders, to freeze the repatriations after the riots.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the US government have also voiced concern over the riots and the treatment of the immigrants.

[ image: Mother and child awaiting deportation]
Mother and child awaiting deportation
But Malaysia's Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has said it is "too costly to allow them to remain in the country."

He defended the use of force saying security forces had acted in self-defence.

"They attacked first and caused the death of a policeman," he said.

The national police chief, Abdul Rahim Noor, said the government would send back all Indonesian immigrants being held in detention camps by Sunday.

"We will proceed with our deportation plans to ensure that the camps are not overcrowded and also to prevent the camps from being put in any critical situation," Abdul Rahim said according to a report in The Star daily.

The Deputy Home Minister, Tajol Rosli Ghazali, has said the government is to tighten security to prevent further rioting.

It will also carry out an investigation to determine the cause of the riots and to find out how the foreign media got photographs of the rioting, the national news agency Bernama quoted him as saying.

Sent back to conflict area

The first group of illegal immigrants to be deported returned to the Indonesian province of Aceh where the BBC correspondent in Indonesia says there has been a long-running conflict between the Indonesian army and separatist rebels.

Most of the Acehnese immigrants have been in Malaysia for several years and they consider themselves to be political refugees.

It is no secret that Indonesia has long wanted the Acehnese sent back from Malaysia, where they were believed to be campaigning for a separate state, he says.

The recent flood of purely economic migrants from Indonesia has given Malaysia the opportunity to get rid of its other unwanted guests, our correspondent says.

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