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Security Crackdown in Malaysia

February 27, 2002

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Police and soldiers have detained thousands of people in eastern Malaysia and bulldozed hundreds of squatter homes in a crackdown against illegal immigrants and armed militants seeking refuge.

Officials said Wednesday that 2,548 illegals from Indonesia and the Philippines were rounded up in raids Tuesday across Sabah state on Borneo island. They will be deported and face a mandatory whipping if they return to Malaysia. A total of 615 homes were demolished.

The operation is the biggest against illegal immigrants in years and comes amid tightened rules for foreign workers and the arrest of Islamic militants elsewhere in Malaysia suspected of plotting terrorism.

``The operation is on-going, and we expect the number of arrests to go up significantly,″ Mohamad Reduan Abdullah, a senior police official, said in a telephone interview from Sabah’s capital city, Kota Kinabalu.

Nearly 4,000 officials are screening an estimated 600,000 immigrants from the neighboring Philippines and Indonesia, many of them without valid papers.

Sabah’s top military official, Muhammad Yassin Yahya, said the security operation will also check if any armed militants from neighboring countries are seeking refuge in Sabah, The Star newspaper reported.

Thousands of Filipinos have lived in Sabah for decades after fleeing from a prolonged Muslim separatist insurgency in the southern Philippines’ restive Mindanao province.

Among the areas targeted by authorities was Gaya island, where thousands of immigrants live in dilapidated wooden huts and work as laborers on mainland Sabah. The resource-rich state lies on the northeastern tip of Borneo island, south of Mindanao.

A lesser number of Indonesians seeking to escape poverty back home also work and live in Sabah.

Malaysia has beefed up security in its territorial waters with the Philippines recently, following an upsurge in violence on Mindanao.

Philippine government forces put down a bloody revolt by one group of Muslim separatists in November, and are being assisted by U.S. troops to destroy another group in the region, the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf.

In 2000, Abu Sayyaf gunmen twice crossed into Malaysian waters and kidnapped tourists and workers at beach resorts for ransom.

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