Pirate raid strains ties with Jakarta

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 1996, 12:00am

A raid on a coastal town by Indonesian pirates, who stormed through the streets firing automatic weapons before robbing two goldsmiths of jewellery, has jarred relations between the two countries.

It was the second assault in six weeks on the town, Semporna, which is at the southeastern corner of Sabah, the Malaysian state bordering Indonesian Kalimantan.

Describing the attack as vicious, Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he would not accuse anyone but hoped that neighbouring countries would co-operate in putting an end to the frequent coastal attacks.

It might be necessary to station more security personnel in Semporna, he said.

Police described the pirates as 'foreigners' in official statements but unofficially identified them as Indonesians.

The group, about 10 men in masks, were armed with rifles and a grenade launcher, which they used to attack a police station and marine police headquarters.

Two grenades were launched. One failed to explode, the other caused no serious damage.

Witnesses said after shooting at cars and shops and spraying bullets into the air, the pirates seized some M$200,000 (HK$607,000) worth of jewellery from two goldsmiths.

A seven-year-old boy and two others, including a goldsmith, were hit by bullets. The boy and the goldsmith's wife died when the ambulance in which they were travelling to hospital was involved in an accident.

A taxi driver was also seriously injured when his vehicle rammed a lamp-post during the shooting.

Responding to the raid in armoured vehicles, police shot dead one of the pirates and arrested two others.

Seven or eight men carried out an almost identical raid on Semporna on February 10, lobbing fish bombs at the police station and marine police headquarters and robbing a local goldsmith of M$100,000 worth of jewellery.

As Malaysians reacted angrily to the pirate raid, Indonesians were reported to be outraged by the destruction of a shanty town built by Indonesian immigrant workers on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

A local council ordered the demolition of the homes, which it said were part of an illegal settlement, to make way for a school.

The pirate raid and the demolition are expected to strain relations between Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, which were not improved last week by a report from Indonesia that two islands claimed by both countries had been included in a new map of Indonesian territory.