Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ethnic-based clashes in Myanmar spill over to streets of Kuala Lumpur

PETALING JAYA: For the past two weeks, Myanmar national Muhammad Sadek, 41, has not stepped out of his house for fear of losing his life.
However, on Monday, the Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee (RARC) program co-ordinator took a chance and went back to work at a Myanmarese restaurant near Kotaraya.
However, when he arrived there, he was pursued by two people who appeared to want to do him harm.
These were people whom he knew personally, and both happened to be Buddhists.
"They were once my friends, but not anymore. We used to work on political issues together but the issue has now gone back to religion," said Safiq, who is staying put at home for the time being.
Several violent clashes between Buddhist and Muslim Myanmar nationals have occurred in the Klang Valley, resulting in the death of two and another two in critical condition.
Mohd Sadek claims he was targeted because of his work with the Muslim Rohingya community, considered by the United Nations to be one of the world's most-persecuted minorities.
However, mindful that sectarian violence could touch a nerve with local communities, police have been quick to clamp down on any incidents here.
Last Friday, Malaysian police detained more than 1,000 Myanmarese workers in Sentul, Cheras, Brickfields and Dang Wangi.
The clashes in Malaysia reportedly started in Selayang before spreading to other parts of the Klang Valley.
The violence has been linked to recent clashes in Myanmar between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the Western state of Rakhine.
Thousands of people, mostly Rohingyas, have been displaced by the clashes, when entire Muslim neighbourhoods were reportedly razed.
The clashes first started in June last year, and tensions were re-ignited again last October and more clashes took place in March this year.
"The Myanmar government is committing genocide against the Rohingya," claimed Sadek.
There have also been a number of sectarian clashes between the Burmese majority and other minority groups such as the Karen, Shan and Chin.
Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, but approximately five percent of its 60 million inhabits (about three million) are Muslims.
Selayang MP William Leong Jee Keen said that Malaysians are concerned with this issue because they are many Myanmar nationals living here, especially in Selayang.
He added that based on the testimony of the victims, these attacks were not committed by armed and organised groups.
"If they start chopping one another, our locals could also be wrongly targeted," he said, adding that the Myanmar nationals deserved protection.
There are an estimated 400,000 Myanmar nationals in the country those with refugee status or working here legally or illegally. Most are working in the restaurant and construction sectors.
As of May this year, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered some 28,120 Rohingya asylum-seekers and refugees in Malaysia.
Malaysia is a favoured destination for the Rohingya, whom the Myanmar government classifies as Bangladeshi immigrants and have been denied citizenship of the country.
Sadek pinned the blame on the infamous 969 movement in Myanmar, a radical right-leaning Buddhist organisation.
"We are here on humanitarian grounds and don't want to trouble Malaysians," he said.
An official from an NGO working with refugees says there has not been much information regarding violence in Malaysia, but said some attacks have been indiscriminate, targeting anyone from Myanmar.
He gave the example of a Christian refugee from Myanmar who suffered a broken hand and injuries to his eye and face.
President of the Burma Campaign Malaysia, Tun Tun looks disparagingly on the recent clashes here.
"We have been living and working peacefully together all this while. We are foreigners and must follow Malaysian law," he said.
He claims that the Myanmar government is trying to create trouble ahead of the upcoming 2015 elections.
In the 2012 Burmese by-elections, the main opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD), won 43 out of 44 seats it contested from a total of 46 seats.
Tun Tun explained that the government wanted to put democracy icon and NLD general secretary Aung San Syu Kyi in a difficult situation.
"Aung San Syu Kyi can't speak out for the Rohingyas because the Buddhist majority might not support her then," he said.
Tun Tun claims that many Myanmar workers in Malaysia have posted anti- Muslim messages on social networking sites