Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Malaysia to probe police raid on
Indian IT workers

NEW DELHI: The message appears to have gone home. Malaysia on Tuesday appeared somewhat contrite about the incidents involving the detention of 270 IT professionals in Kuala Lumpur and conveyed to India that it had taken New Delhi's complaint "very seriously" and was "investigating" into allegations of high-handedness by the Malaysian police.
Meanwhile, commerce minister Arun Jaitley and textiles minister Kanshiram Rana took up the issue with Malaysian entrepreneur development minister Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz on tour here. Mr Aziz assured them the charges would be looked into while pledging Malaysia's commitment to good bilateral ties with India.
The Malaysian IT community seemed embarrassed by the incidents. Malaysian Multimedia Supercorridor has written to Nasscom saying such incidents were one-off and Indo-Malaysian IT relations were on course.
The Malaysian Opposition has taken the incidents more seriously. A Malaysian opposition leader and rights group urged acting Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to apologise to Indian IT professionals rounded up for alleged visa irregularities. "I would urge the acting prime minister to make a formal apology in parliament," said Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party .
Industry sources said it is not yet known to which IT companies these professionals belong to. Sources said Indian High Commission officials are yet to ascertain details of the companies the IT pros work for since most of those detained were cagey and would rather go back to work and forget the whole episode.
Earlier, India called in Malaysia's envoy in New Delhi on Monday to demand an explanation for the police behaviour after some 270 people -- almost all Indian nationals barring a handful of Pakistanis -- were herded out of their apartment block in a dawn raid a day earlier.
Almost all of the Indians, who mainly worked in the information technology (IT) sector, were eventually released.
But many found their passports had been tampered with before being returned, with photographs scratched out and data on visa pages erased. A few also said they were physically abused.
Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Ahmad Bahrin Idris, according to state-run Bernama news agency, denied the Indians' allegations.
But Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Malaysia will investigate.
"We take such complaints very seriously and we will investigate and let the Indian government know the outcome of this investigation," Syed Hamid told reporters.
He said the police were still holding six Indians and three Pakistanis who have been unable to produce valid travel and work documents.
Aside from causing a wrinkle in relations with India, the incident has been a poor advertisement for Malaysia's efforts to establish a niche in the global knowledge economy.
The country suffers shortages of tech-savvy professionals, which India has in abundance.
Officials from the government sponsored Multi-media Super Corridor (MSC) high tech zone joined in efforts with employers on Sunday to have the men released.
Malaysia depends heavily of foreign labour, but with a population of just 24 million people it fears being overrun with immigrants from poorer countries in the region.
Last year, hundreds of thousands of illegal workers from Indonesia and Philippines were deported. They mostly worked in construction, factories, agriculture and plantations, or as maids.
Unlike them, Indian software specialists are in demand internationally, finding well-paid jobs in the United States and Europe.