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Message-ID: <s51b6d85.052@tlc.state.tx.us>
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 1998 09:12:22 -0600
Reply-To: Southeast Asia Discussion List <SEASIA-L@msu.edu>
Sender: Southeast Asia Discussion List <SEASIA-L@msu.edu>
Subject: MY:Riot in Detention Camp
To: Multiple recipients of list SEASIA-L <SEASIA-L@msu.edu>

Malaysia uprising highlights Asia's dilemma

By Nelson Graves, Reuters, 26 March 1998, 11:07 AM ET

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - An uprising in a Malaysian detention camp has thrown a spotlight on the human side of Asia's financial crisis and the mounting immigration dilemma facing the region's governments.

Malaysian officials said eight Indonesians and one policeman died following a pre-dawn riot Thursday in the Semenyih detention camp near the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Indonesian militants, citing underground sources, said 24 inmates from north Sumatra Island's Aceh region were killed in the incident.

Whatever the death toll, the uprising was the most violent incident since thousands of immigrants, uprooted by the nine-month-old regional crisis, began flowing into Malaysia.

It revived a debate over the status of immigrants from Aceh who say they will be persecuted if forced to return home.

The problem has a diplomatic dimension as Malaysia is reluctant to grant refugee status to the Acehnese for fear of upsetting its populous neighbor, Indonesia, human rights advocates say.

Hundreds of Acehnese fled to Malaysia earlier in the decade to escape fighting between the Indonesian army and Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh) separatist rebels.

The separatist rebellion in Aceh peaked in 1990 and has now largely subsided, but a few skirmishes between the rebels and the military are still reported.

Malaysia's policy is it is Indonesia's internal problem, it does not want to get involved, Elizabeth Wong, coordinator of the Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Voice of the Malaysian People) rights group, said.

But human rights advocates say Acehnese immigrants will be persecuted if sent home and deserve refugee status.

The Malaysian government's sensitivity over the issue was highlighted by authorities' efforts to clamp down on news coverage of the riot.

The national police headquarters issued a request Thursday morning as word of the uprising spread, asking media to hold news of the incident.

Police at the Semenyih camp, about 25 miles southeast of Kuala Lumpur, asked photographers and cameramen at the site to refrain from taking pictures, witnesses said.

Malaysian authorities are in a bind because thousands of immigrants, mostly from Indonesia, have begun flowing across the Malacca Strait in search of jobs.

But Malaysia, which for a decade relied on foreign workers to keep its economic engine turning, is grappling with a slowdown which, while less severe than the one in Indonesia, is forcing some companies to lay off employees.

Malaysia's detention centers are filling up, stoking tensions and putting pressure on authorities to step up repatriation operations.

Police said some 500 Acehnese were put on a boat in Lumut, on Malaysia's western coast, Thursday for deportation. They did not say precisely where in Indonesia the boat was headed.

This is linked to a desperate effort to send people back to their homes, Syed Husin Ali, president of the opposition Parti Rakyat Malaysia party, said. This is a good opportunity, when waves of people are coming over, to send people back.

Wong said Malaysia, which she said has not signed the 1961 U.N. Convention on Refugees, had quietly granted residential status to a few hundred Acehnese but does not offer full political asylum.

They claim they are political refugees. We take them at their word. Aceh is as violent as East Timor. Their claims are extremely legitimate, Wong said, referring to the former Portuguese colony ruled by Jakarta.

A senior Indonesian diplomat said his government had undertaken to stem the flow of immigrants to Malaysia.

Tim Parritt of the London-based Amnesty International said his group's concern was that Acehnese who deserved refugee status would be repatriated. But he said he understood Malaysia's plight.

Which ones are genuine? Which ones are economic refugees given the rapid increase in migrant workers? We are very concerned that there are genuine asylum seekers, Parritt said.

There is a risk there will be some real victims.