Filipinos fleeing to Malaysia to escape a military attack on Muslim rebels will be treated as war refugees and placed in a camp, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday.
"We cannot accept them as illegal immigrants but as war refugees who will be placed in a special camp," Mahathir was reported as saying by the national news agency Bernama.
"If they come, we will treat them like we treated the Vietnamese (refugees) previously," referring to the boat people who fled to neighboring Asian countries to escape communist rule in Vietnam.
Mahathir, speaking to reporters after opening a media conference, added that the Filipino refugees would not be allowed out of the camp unless they were willing to be deported.
Philippine security forces last weekend launched a major offensive against Abu Sayyaf Islamic gunmen holding 19 hostages on the southern island of Jolo, near Malaysia's eastern Sabah state.
Two French journalists have since escaped from the Abu Sayyaf.
Three of the remaining captives are Malaysians snatched from the Pandanan resort island off Sabah on September 10 -- the second in five months on its eastern islands.
Less than five months earlier, the Abu Sayyaf abducted nine Malaysians and 12 foreigners from the Sipadan dive resort -- KUALA LUMPUR (AFP)
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