Concerns have been expressed over the safety of Myanmar’s 1.5 million migrant laborers in Malaysia following the grisly murders of more than 20 mostly Myanmar workers over the last 15 months, in what observers believe could be killings linked to Buddhist-Muslim violence in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The latest murder involving two workers last weekend prompted a nongovernmental organization to demand that the Myanmar government pressure authorities in predominantly Muslim Malaysia to track down the perpetrators, while the speaker of Myanmar’s upper house of parliament vowed to send a letter to his counterpart calling for clarification on the situation.
Sun Win, the Myanmar chairman of the Kapon Free Funeral Service Society in Malaysia, said Friday that he did not believe police were working hard enough to solve the murders of the mostly Buddhist factory workers, which authorities say may have been ethnically motivated.
“What we want is for [Myanmar] President Thein Sein and his government to directly pressure the Malaysian government to work on these cases—if not, they won’t help us,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“[Malaysian] police announced they are trying to arrest [the perpetrators], but since the first killing in May 2013 … people from Myanmar have been murdered each month and no one has been arrested so far.”
The most recent murders on Sept. 14 involved two men in their 30s from western Myanmar’s majority Buddhist Rakhine state, where bloody communal violence has left more than 280 people dead and tens of thousands displaced over the past two years.
Human rights groups have accused authorities in the state of discriminating against the Muslim Rohingya community, who they say bore the brunt of the violence at the hands of Rakhine Buddhists.
Sun Win said that his organization had held meetings in May in Malaysia with Myanmar Ambassador Tha Aung Nyun and Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Labor Tin Aung to express their concerns about the safety of Myanmar’s migrant workers.
“We told them about these problems and they said they had already reported to the Malaysian government about it,” he said.
“I don’t know exactly [why these murders continue occurring], but Burmese people are afraid and worried. Many people are preparing to go back home.”
According to Sun Win, the Sept. 14 murders were discovered after the two men, who were Buddhists, never returned from work in the northwestern Malaysia’s Penang state.
“The people who lived together with them reported their disappearance to the police and then the police showed them the two dead bodies, which belonged to the men who hadn’t returned the night before,” he said.
“They had been stabbed in the bellies and sides, and one had his throat slit. One was Kyaw Tha Hla from Mrauk-U and the other was Kyaw Aye Hlaing from Yathaytoung.”
Pledge of letter
Sun Win’s call for pressure follows a pledge from Myanmar’s upper house speaker Khin Aung Myint to send a letter to his counterpart in Malaysia expressing concern at the number of Myanmar citizens who have been killed in the country recently.
The Myanmar Times on Thursday cited Khin Aung Myint as saying he would send the letter after receiving a report from the upper house’s Human Rights Committee compiling information on those who have been killed, as well as the apparent attempt to assassinate two prominent Rakhine MPs in February.
Khin Aung Myint made the comment in response to a question from Khing Maung Latt, a Rakhine state lawmaker who had asked how the government was responding to attacks on Myanmar nationals in Malaysia, the report said.
In February a Myanmar pro-democracy activist was killed in Kuala Lumpur just a day before two gunmen on a motorcycle shot at Rakhine National Development Party leader Aye Maung and Arakan League for Democracy chair Aye Thar Aung. The Times said that the two later blamed the attack on “Islamic terrorists.”
In June 2013 several Myanmar migrants were killed in Malaysia following a spike in violence between Buddhists and Muslims believed to have been sparked by the communal clashes in Myanmar.
Myanmar Buddhists complain that Malaysia's Muslim-dominated police force has not solved any of the murders.
The Times quoted Myanmar’s Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brigadier General Kyaw Zan Myint as saying that Naypyidaw has no right to interfere with the investigation by Malaysian authorities, and that Myanmar police were cooperating with their counterparts to apprehend the gunmen in the alleged attack on the two Rakhine MPs.
Malaysia’s Malay Mail online reported Thursday that a special task force had been set up by police to investigate the murders, quoting state deputy police chief Datuk A. Thaiveegan, who said authorities were “probing if religious disputes are involved.”
The Mail said most of the killings had taken place around Penang’s Seberang Perai, and that Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine state are the main suspects.
Reported by Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.