Rich and poor flee Indonesia's turmoil

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DESPERATE for work, poor Indonesians are paying smugglers to pack them into leaky boats which will secretly disgorge their human cargo in Malaysia and Singapore. Meanwhile, the rich Indonesians, particularly those from the ethnic Chinese community, are slipping out on Cathay Pacific jets for Hong Kong.

"We don't know what's going to happen," one Indonesian Chinese businessman staying in Hong Kong said. "The situation is too unstable." The businessman, who still has most of his assets in Indonesia, declines to be named. He added: "It means taking my children out of school but if they stay, their safety is at risk".

The boat people are paying around pounds 100 a head to be smuggled out. The jet people are spending far more on their sojourn in Hong Kong. Many have residences overseas and they all have overseas bank accounts. The seriously wealthy, such the Riady family, own companies in Hong Kong and have long been commuters between there and Indonesia.

Anti-Chinese riots and the government's refusal to support the Chinese community have prompted well-off Chinese families to go abroad, at least temporarily. They are hedging their bets by maintaining businesses back home, while shoveling as much money as possible overseas.

The poor, squeezed between rising unemployment and hyper-inflation, see no prospect of earning enough money at home. They must give the little they have to the human cargo smugglers, and they face appalling risks on arrival.

At the weekend, a special court sitting in Singapore dealt with 300 illegal immigrants and handed out jail sentences of up to six weeks as well as up to six strokes of the cane. "We are literally a nation besieged," said the state prosecutor, who asked the courts to send a clear signal to illegal immigrants that "flagrant disrespect for the law will not be tolerated".

In Malaysia, the government has launched one of its biggest air and sea operations to prevent an influx of illegal immigrants from Indonesia. Last week, the deputy home minister, Tajol Rosli Ghazali, said 300 to 400 illegal immigrants were arriving daily, and 15,000 from Indonesian had been deported so far this year. The jet people find it easier to secure a temporary refuge overseas but are uneasy about leaving their homes. "I really don't want to leave Indonesia", said the businessman in Hong Kong, "I was brought up in Indonesia, it is my country even if some of my fellow countrymen think differently."