Myanmar sectarian violence spills across Malaysian border


A Muslim woman collects pieces of metal from the rubble of Muslim quarter of Pa Rein village in Myauk Oo township, which was burned in recent violence between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingyas on October 29, 2012 in Rakhine state, Myanmar.


Kaung Htet

Sectarian violence in Myanmar (formerly Burma) may have spilled over into Malaysia, with four killings in recent days suspected to be linked to tensions between Muslims and Buddhists.

The victims were all Buddhists and all from Myanmar, according to police. One of them was slashed to death by machete-wielding attackers at a Kuala Lumpur car wash. The 20-year-old man was sleeping when he was attacked by 10 people, local media reported.

The bloodshed has prompted a strong response in Malaysia, which is known for its authoritarian leanings. As many as 1,000 Myanmar nationals have been rounded up by Malaysian police in recent days. As Kuala Lumpur's police chief, Amar Singh Ishar Singh, told Myanmar's state news agency Bernama, "These incidents are believed to have been linked to the racial problems in Myanmar."

He warned those from Myanmar residing in Malaysia against disturbing national security. A Reuters estimate puts the Myanmar population in Malaysia at around 400,000.

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Myanmar's religious violence has gone international at least once before: in April, a clash between Buddhists and Muslims originally from Myanmar, but held in an Indonesian prison, left eight Buddhists dead and more than 20 injured.

These killings mirror raging religious strife in Myanmar, which has seen anti-Muslim mobs torching entire Muslim neighborhoods and displacing residents into muddy fields. The most intense violence has exploded in Rakhine state near the Bangladesh border region, which is home to a stateless Muslim minority known as the Rohingya.

The violence there has been tamed in part by army-enforced segregation but the killings are ongoing. Three Rohingya women, one of them pregnant, were shot dead Wednesday by security forces during a scuffle attributed to families refusing to leave their longtime neighborhoods for makeshift shelters. 

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In May, Rakhine state authorities issued a directive forbidding Rohingya couples in two predominately Muslim townships to have more than two children. Despite the United Nations calling the policy discriminatory and a violation of human rights, residents have called for the ban to be maintained and even extended throughout the entire state. 

On Wednesday a crowd of almost 1,000 people gathered in Sittwe, the state capital, in defense of the two-child limit. "Rakhine state is close to Bangladesh, so that we need to have something to keep their population in check," one demonstrator told The Irrawaddy

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who confirmed Thursday that she intends to run for president in Myanmar's 2015 election, has called the two-child policy "illegal" and "not in accordance with human rights."

Patrick Winn contributed to this report from Bangkok, Thailand.