Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Sectarianism in Myanmar Spills into Indonesia ; Fight between Buddhists and Muslims at Detention Hall Leaves at Least 8 Dead

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Sectarianism in Myanmar Spills into Indonesia ; Fight between Buddhists and Muslims at Detention Hall Leaves at Least 8 Dead

Article excerpt

At a detention center in North Sumatra, a fight between Buddhist fishermen picked up for illegal entry and Rohingya Muslim asylum seekers from Myanmar has left at least eight dead.

Simmering religious and ethnic violence in Myanmar spread beyond the country's borders Friday when a brawl broke out at an immigration center in Indonesia between Muslim and Buddhist detainees, leaving eight dead and 15 wounded, officials said.

A group of 11 fishermen and 117 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar were being held together in the same area of a government detention center in Belawan, a port city in North Sumatra Province, when fighting erupted in the early morning, said Herianto, a spokesman for the Indonesian immigration department in Jakarta.

"There were eight fishermen killed; they are the Buddhists," said Mr. Herianto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. "The injured detainees were Rohingya," a Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar.

The disturbance broke out around 12:45 a.m., with the detainees using metal and wood from broken chairs to attack one another, according to Sabarita Ginting, an immigration office spokeswoman in Medan, the provincial capital. The police subdued the fighting by midmorning, Metro TV and the detik.com news portal reported. The wounded were taken to a hospital in Medan, 22 kilometers, or 14 miles, west of Belawan.

The Associated Press, citing the local police, reported that the clash began after a Rohingya confronted a Buddhist fisherman about sectarian violence back home in Myanmar.

Vivian Tan, a regional spokeswoman with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office in Bangkok, said that the detention center's detainees were usually a mix of foreign asylum seekers, including the Rohingya refugees, and people picked up for illegal entry, like the Buddhist fishermen.

The U.N.H.C.R. released a statement Friday afternoon calling for calm among the groups, and it urged the Indonesian authorities to act to prevent further violence, including moving detainees to community housing as soon as possible.

The brawl in the detention center underscores the tensions and deep animosity between Muslims and Buddhists that have surfaced in Myanmar as the country tries to embrace democracy after five decades of military rule.

Regional officials expressed concern that violence within Myanmar could spill over into Southeast Asian neighbors. At a workshop in Jakarta on Friday on conflict prevention and preventative diplomacy, Vijay Nambiar of India, a U.N. under secretary general and special adviser on Myanmar to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said that the Buddhist-Muslim tensions needed to be controlled for regional security. …

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