Public anxiety has risen in the state of Penang after the discovery of mutilated corpses and severed body parts – with at least 18 unexplained murders of Burmese nationals. Malaysian police have detained 15 people from Burma over a series of gruesome murders in a popular tourist destination, and believe the killings are linked to ethnic unrest in their home country, reports say.
Authorities had made little comment until now but the state’s police chief was quoted on Friday as saying they now believed the killings were linked to violent clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in Burma. “It was revenge they brought here from their country,” Abdul Rahim Hanafi said, according to the Malay Mail.
Clashes between majority Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya – who the United Nations describe as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world – erupted in 2012 in western Burma.
The violence has led to the deaths of about 200 people and displaced up to 140,000, mostly Rohingya.
With its relatively more developed economy, Malaysia is a sought-after destination for Burmese refugees and illegal migrants – both Buddhists and Rohingya – many of whom bring along their sectarian grudges. Burmese activists in Malaysia say dozens of Buddhists have been killed in revenge attacks and that authorities in the Muslim-majority country have done little to stop them.
The recent killings in Penang – popular with tourists for its beaches, historic capital of Georgetown and polyglot cuisine – have fuelled concerns. Some of those murdered were found with their throats slit or head and limbs severed.
Reports did not specify whether those killed or detained were Buddhist or Muslim. No further information about the victims has been officially released.
Hundreds of thousands of Burmese asylum seekers and economic migrants – most of them Buddhist – have made it to Malaysia and refugee activists say the flow is accelerating.
Burma’s government views its roughly 1.3 million Rohingya as foreigners, denying most of them citizenship.