Religious clashes in Myanmar, which flared up again last week, have spilled over to Malaysia, which has one of the biggest Rohingya Muslim refugee communities in the region and a large Myanmar migrant worker population.
Kuala Lumpur deputy police chief Amar Singh Ishar Singh said the riots in Myanmar have also caused a spate of violence here, leaving four Myanmar men dead and eight others severely injured.
Myanmar has been gripped by religious violence in recent months where Buddhist mobs have gone on the rampage against minority Muslims, including Rohingyas, in the country. The latest bout of rioting took place in the northern city of Lashio, near the Chinese border, last week.
"The religious sentiments (back home) have caught up with Myanmar workers here, leading to both Muslim and Buddhist groups launching heinous attacks on each other in areas with a large number of Myanmar nationals," Amar was quoted as saying to the Sun, a local English daily.
Police have set up a task force to tackle the violence and about 60 Myanmar workers have been detained, he said. Malaysia has some 400,000 Myanmar workers, many of whom are restaurant and construction workers.
"We have called up the leaders from both factions and had a meeting with them today and urged them to advise their people to end the violent clashes," he said yesterday. "The detention of Myanmar nationals, mainly in Sentul and Brickfields, was done to subdue the situation before it becomes worse."
Since May 30, four Myanmar workers have died in four separate incidents after being attacked by men with sticks and parangs. In the latest incident, which happened on Monday, a Myanmar worker was slashed repeatedly behind a car wash centre in the city.
Similar attacks occurred in early April in Indonesia, leaving at least eight people dead and 21 injured. They were caught in fighting between Buddhist and Muslim asylum seekers in a North Sumatra immigration detention centre.
Utusan Malaysia, a Malay-language daily, quoted sources as saying that the police are investigating a group of Myanmar nationals believed to be members of a radical Buddhist movement known as "969", with a mission to kill Rohingya Muslims here.
"The Myanmar nationals here are alleged to have received VCDs containing killing scenes of the Rohingyas by the Myanmar military to influence them to do the same," Utusan quoted a source as saying. It reported that some Myanmar nationals have been spotted wearing "969" T-shirts around the Kuala Lumpur suburbs of Puchong and Kepong.
Human rights organisations such as UNHCR Malaysia said they were still assessing the fast- moving situation.
Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani, president of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia, said he has contacted the Myanmar embassy here for intervention but has yet to receive a response.
"It is a tricky situation as many Rohingya Muslims were also persecuted in their home country and that is why they flee," he said.
According to the UNHCR, some 23,000 Rohingyas are registered as refugees in Malaysia, but other NGOs believe there are another 50,000 unregistered refugees here.