Soldiers join police to flush out illegal immigrants in Cameron Highlands

PUTRAJAYA - As soldiers joined the police to flush out illegal immigrants in Cameron Highlands, the Home Ministry warned agents of these workers and "owners" of illegally cleared land who hired them would also not be spared.

Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi made it clear that the agents and locals who arranged for the illegal clearing of land were also targets of the wide dragnet.

"Yes, the workers may be the ones who did the clearing but who hired them? What about the agents who brought them there?" he asked.

"We are working with the relevant authorities to investigate and act against all breakers of the law in Cameron Highlands," Zahid said after officiating at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Malaysian Film Censorship Board.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said soldiers were called in to beef up the operation following requests from various agencies.

"The army's assistance was sought because the search involves forested areas," he said, adding that the role of the troops would be determined after the Deputy Prime Minister's visit on Monday.

"We will be fair and will not victimise the innocent," he said.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said about 40 illegal immigrants were nabbed during a massive operation Saturday night.

On a claim by migrant rights group Tenaganita that a worker died in the Ringlet detention centre, the IGP said he was unaware of it and would investigate.

Immigration Department director-general Datuk Mustafa Ibrahim said the operation would continue until all illegal immigrants had been removed from Cameron Highlands.

He said under the department's 3+1 programme, the illegal immigrants could still surrender and be deported to their countries without being detained or charged.

"As this programme will only last until Dec 31, they should take this opportunity and give themselves up," Mustafa said.

A total of 181 migrants have been detained since the operation began on Nov 9. Media reports claimed that there were over 30,000 illegal immigrants in the highlands. However, Pahang Sultan Ahmad Shah and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption ComĀ­mission have disputed the figure.

In response to the ongoing operation, Cameron Highlands Vegetable Growers Association secretary Chay Ee Mong said: "We just want to die. The police and military have come; what can we do?

"They are treating the farmers here as the country's enemy, worse than even the communists.

"For those foreigners not running businesses or illegal land clearing, please give them a chance and allow them to remain here. We hope for more lenient action.

"No worker means no harvest, which means no vegetables, which means no farmers."