Malaysia's relations with Indonesia are likely to sour further with Kuala Lumpur's plans to cane illegal workers before they are deported. Indonesian newspapers have seized on stories about the ill-treatment of workers in Malaysia, and the prospect of thousands of Indonesians being scarred for life in the canings will be big headlines. While a crackdown on illegal workers is already under way, Malaysia has held off targeting Indonesians until after next month's presidential election in Indonesia. A law was introduced in 2002 allowing illegal workers to be caned after a riot that year at a detention centre ended with a Malaysian policeman being bludgeoned to death and six Indonesians being shot dead by security forces. The camp at Kajang, 30km outside Kuala Lumpur, was holding 1,000 illegal Indonesian workers who staged an uprising against guards rather than be deported. The corporal punishment is carried out in jails, with the prisoner tied down on an inclined scaffold. One stroke of a rattan cane on a prisoner's exposed buttocks usually leaves a permanent scar. A typical sentence is four or five strokes, which may be administered one per week. 'Indonesians felt the law and the policy were aimed at them,' said labour activist Irene Fernandez, of Tenaganita, a human rights group. 'They said it is inhumane and an insult.' At the same time as corporal punishment for illegal workers was introduced, then premier Mahathir Mohamad urged Malaysian employers to adopt a 'hire Indonesians last' policy. Tensions flared this month when Malaysian police raided the living quarters of some Indonesian labourers at a construction site in Kuala Lumpur, shooting one worker in the leg. Indonesian Manpower Minister Jacob Nuwa Wea angered Malaysians by calling for police not to carry guns when conducting searches for illegal Indonesian workers. The Malaysian public was incensed by the remark. A frequent comment in internet chat rooms was to tell the minister to 'mind his own business'. Indonesians make up the largest contingent of foreign workers in Malaysia and many say it is their labour that has built modern Malaysia. 'It is Indonesia's plentiful workers who helped to change the Malaysian skyline ... our boom was made on their backs,' said Malaysian labour activist Subramaniam Arulchelvam. 'We should be grateful and thank them and not treat them as criminals.' The money that the workers repatriated also helped to improve the lives of thousands of Indonesia's villagers. Even before Malaysia began cracking down on illegal Indonesian workers, 6,000 illegally crossed the narrow Straits of Malacca to Indonesian Sumatra to escape the campaign, Indonesian embassy officials said.