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Date: 24 Nov 1999
Foreign missions dragged into Malaysia's electoral battle
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 24 (AFP) - Foreign embassies were Wednesday dragged into Malaysia's election battle when the powerful youth movement of the ruling party accused them of funding the opposition.
Abdul Azim Zabidi, senior official of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) youth wing, was quoted as saying the US embassy and the high commissions (embassies) of Canada, Australia and Britain were involved.
The missions provided financial assistance and support to opposition leaders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the run-up to the November 29 general election, Abdul Azim was quoted by the pro-government Utusan Malaysia newspaper as saying.
Diplomats were seen meeting politicians, attending press conferences by opposition leaders and also going to several states to hear Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's rallies, he said in the Malay-language paper.
"From what we know from certain sources, there are such attempts and the government must act sternly," he said.
"The parties which are willing to accept assistance or bribes such as this are traitors to this country and its people. They should be punished heavily because they want to sell the country."
Mahathir, a frequent and forceful critic of the West, said any such attempts -- if proven to be true -- would amount to foreign interference in the country's internal affairs.
The government would expose the opposition as puppets if they really did receive financial aid and support from foreigners, he was quoted by the official Bernama news agency as saying while campaigning in the eastern state of Sarawak.
Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi promised to launch an investigation into the allegations.
"It seems that there are people who are interfering by offering support to the opposition with a view to toppling the Barisan Nasional (National Front coalition) government," he was quoted as saying by Bernama.
"The foreign ministry will make a report and when all this is proved, we will take appropriate action."
Abdullah said any diplomats found to have interfered would not be allowed to serve in the country.
UMNO vice president and education minister Najib Tun Razak, said the government totally opposed any attempt by foreigners to meddle in its political affairs.
All the embassies denied the claim. "The (US) embassy is not providing funding for election-related activities in any way, shape or form," said press officer James Warrren.
"The US strongly supports democracy and free and fair elections. It does not interfere or take sides in elections."
Warren said embassy officials attended press events but this was a "normal diplomatic function and an expression of our interest in the democratic process in Malaysia."
The Canadian high commission said it was "disturbed" to read the allegations.
First Secretary Keith Fountain said commission officials routinely attended ruling party and opposition events, describing it as "within the bounds of normal diplomatic practice.
"We state categorically that we have never provided fund to any kind of Malaysian political group, whether government or opposition."
Fountain said Canada financially supported non-partisan NGOs and had done so since the 1950s with the Malaysian government's support.
The British high commission said in a statement that it "keeps itself informed of local political developments but we have not given financial or other support to any NGO or other organisation in connection with the forthcoming general election."
The Australian high commission said its officials met "political figures widely across the spectrum" as part of normal diplomatic practice.
"The high commission has never given funding or support to any political or other groups for any political purpose whatsoever."