Police to detain rumour-mongers without trial after ethnic clashes

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia, March 14 (AFP) - Malaysian police said Wednesday they would use a tough security law to detain people spreading rumours after the country's worst ethnic clashes in decades. "We will resort to ISA (the Internal Security Act) on rumour-mongers," said Selangor state police chief Nik Ismail Nik Yusuf.

The act allows indefinite detention without trial.

Opposition party leaders who claim the death toll may be higher than the official figure of six will also be investigated for alleged sedition, Nik Ismail told a press conference.

The police chief said life was "almost back to normal" in the Taman Medan area of Petaling Jaya town, where four days of bloody clashes between Malays and ethnic Indians broke out last Thursday.

But he said a fight broke out late Tuesday outside a temple in nearby Puchong district, where four Indians were attacked by a group of unidentified men. Two of the victims have been hospitalised.

"I feel it is an isolated case..." Nik Ismail said.

He said police would trim its force of 700-800 in the troubled areas within a week if the situation remained peaceful.

Nik Ismail said 220 people had now been arrested, of whom 167 including five soldiers were still being held. There are 98 Malays, 57 Indians and 12 Indonesian illegal immigrants.

They could face a variety of charges including murder, which carries the death penalty.

The police chief said claims of a higher death toll were "an effort to scare people and to give wrong information."

He stuck by the figure of six deaths. Wednesday's Star newspaper said five were Indians and one was an Indonesian.

Nik Ismail said 23 people were still in hospital. Earlier reports said 52 people were injured.

Nik Ismail said members of the National Justice Party and the Parti Islam SeMalaysia had visited the area Tuesday evening and distributed pamphlets questioning the official figure for deaths and injuries.

"We will lodge a police report today on the false claims and we will investigate under the Sedition Act," he said.

The report would be lodged "against all parties who accuse us of not being truthful in our reporting," Nik Ismail added.

He urged the Alternative Front alliance of four opposition parties to come forward with evidence that more than six people had died.

"We are always transparent...there is no need for us to hide or not give accurate details."

A report must be lodged before any investigation but can be filed by police themselves. Sedition is punishable by up to three years' jail.

The opposition alliance, in a statement Monday, said "based on reliable family and hospital sources, we fear that the actual number of deaths is greater than the official figure announced by police ..."

On claims that police -- who are overwhelmingly Malay -- acted one-sidely on some occasions, Nik Ismail said: "We are very professional in our job... we are very impartial and we do not side with anybody."