Myanmar Buddhist-Muslim brawl in Indonesia rages on

MEDAN, Indonesia, (UPDATED) - A group of Myanmar Muslims beat eight Buddhists to death at an Indonesian detention center on Friday, April 5, after becoming enraged at news of deadly communal violence in their homeland, officials said.

The Rohingya Muslims launched the attack at the immigration center on Sumatra island using weapons fashioned from smashed up beds and broom handles after seeing pictures of recent religious violence in Myanmar that left dozens dead.

The attack underscores the soaring Muslim-Buddhist tensions that have cast a shadow over political reforms in Myanmar, where the end of decades of authoritarian military rule has laid bare deep sectarian fault lines.

The recent disorder in Myanmar was the worst since an eruption of violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year that left scores dead and tens of thousands -- mainly Muslims -- displaced.

The Rohingya have been described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, and violent episodes have accelerated their flow from Myanmar, with an increasing number arriving on Indonesian shores.

Immigration center official Rida Agustian said the entrance to the block where the detainees were being held was sealed off to stop officers from intervening as the deadly attack was launched in the early hours.

When officers finally got in, they found "blood spattered on the walls and in pools on the floor," he said.

"The men had used wood from their beds and broom sticks as weapons to kill. The bodies were covered in blood, it looked like they were beaten and tortured to death."

Agustian said 15 people, believed to be Rohingya, were injured during the violence at the center, where 106 of them are being held.

Kyawkyaw, 25, who gave only one name and was one of 11 Myanmar Buddhist fishermen being held at the center before the violence erupted, said he heard the attack unfolding and was "very scared".

"We ask the Indonesian government to send us straight back home to Myanmar," he told AFP outside the center before being taken away for questioning by police.

The attack happened after the detainees saw images of violence between non-Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in central Myanmar last month that left at least 43 people dead and many Muslim homes and mosques destroyed, said local police chief Endro Kiswanto.

"They managed to see some photos of the violence in Myanmar, including buildings on fire," Kiswanto told AFP.

He said all 8 Buddhist men were dead when police arrived at the detention center in the early hours of Friday morning. Twenty-five detainees and 30 other witnesses were being questioned by police.

Yusuf Umardani, head of the detention center, said the photos sparked an argument between the Buddhists and Rohingya, during which a Rohingya cleric was stabbed.

"The cleric told his followers not to take revenge, but around 1:30 a.m., the Muslims came to the Buddhist cell and locked the block from inside," he said.

Myanmar's embassy in Jakarta will ask the Indonesian authorities to probe the incident and "make greater efforts to ensure the security of Myanmar nationals in Indonesia", presidential office spokesman Zaw Htay said in a statement.

Many Rohingya Muslims arriving on Indonesian shores face long stints in detention awaiting UN assessment for refugee status. Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

Last month's communal violence was apparently triggered by an argument in a gold shop in the central town of Meiktila that turned into a riot, but witnesses say the wave of violence since then appears to have been well organized.


In a related event, Indonesian police in Surabaya arrested 35 Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar who planned to make the treacherous sea crossing to Australia to seek asylum, a spokeswoman said.

The 35 migrants, who included 12 children, were arrested at a flat in the city of Surabaya, East Java province, for not having the necessary immigration documents to be in Indonesia, said local police chief Wiji Suwartini.

"They planned to go to Australia," she told AFP, adding that they would be sent to an immigration detention center in the city.

An increasing number of Rohingya have been arriving on Indonesian shores, where many face long stints in detention awaiting UN assessment for refugee status.

Australia is facing a steady influx of asylum-seekers arriving by boat, many of whom use Indonesia as a transit hub, paying people-smugglers for passage on leaky wooden vessels after fleeing their home countries.

Hundreds have died making the treacherous journey over the past few years. -