According to the News Straits Times on Wednesday, some 115 detainees, many of them allegedly members of al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiya, are being held at a northern Malaysian prison camp under the Internal Security Act.

The law is a remnant of a British colonial code which allows the government to detain a person for two years without trial. The detention order is renewable for an unlimited number of two-year periods.

The push for freeing the suspects is being led by Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Nazri Aziz, who led a group of lawmakers on a 17 June visit of the detainees at Kamunting prison camp.

They include 14 Indonesians, three Singaporeans, three Filipinos and one Sri Lankan.

"The main concern of all the detainees was the issue of their release and, in particular, the uncertainty and suspense of the duration of their detention," Nazri said.

The authorities have not immediately responded to Nazri's calls for the detainees' release. Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Not in haste

However, in a written statement to parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi dismissed claims that government orders to detain people under the Internal Security Act are made in haste, the Times said.

"The main concern of all the detainees was the issue of their release and, in particular, the uncertainty and suspense of the duration of their detention"

Nazri Aziz,
minister for parliamentary affairs

Nazri said Malaysian detainees who had served two years should be freed, while foreigners should be immediately deported to their countries.

The detainees include Yazid Sufaat, accused of helping top al-Qaida operatives - including two 9/11 hijackers - who visited Malaysia in 2000.

Officials say Sufaat is also a close associate of alleged Jemaah Islamiya leader Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, who is now in US custody.

Chemical weapons

Sufaat, a US-trained biochemist, is alleged to be linked to al-Qaida's attempts to produce chemical and biological weapons.

He was arrested in 2001, and his detention was extended for two years last year after officials said he was "unrepentant" for his actions.

Many of the alleged terrorist suspects in Kamunting were arrested in late 2001 and early 2002, when the authorities in Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore said they had uncovered an al-Qaida-linked plot by Jemaah Islamiya to blow up the US embassy and other Western targets in Singapore.

Jemaah Islamiya has been blamed for attacks such as the 2002 bombings on Indonesia's Bali island that killed 202 people.