The rape and sexual harassment of three stateless Rohingya Muslim women caused last week's deadly brawl between Burmese and Rohingya refugees at an immigration centre on Sumatra, an Indonesian police report said.
The clash at the overcrowded centre early on April 5 in which eight Buddhists were killed and at least 15 Rohingya injured was initially blamed on tensions raised at the centre by recent violence in central Myanmar between members of the Buddhist majority and minority Muslims.
But a police report published on April 6 said a fight broke out between Rohingya refugees and illegal fishermen from Myanmar after the Rohingya complained to officers at the detention centre that the fishermen had raped and harassed three Rohingya women.
One woman was raped on the evening of March 31 by three fishermen, while two other fishermen groped a woman who had finished bathing on April 3, the report said.
On April 4, two fishermen raped a 20-year-old woman who was drying her clothes. A Rohingya leader reported the incident 90 minutes later. The police report said the perpetrators were reprimanded and slapped on their cheeks.
The riot started after the fishermen, unhappy at being reported, confronted the Rohingya, who were aggrieved over their treatment by the Burmese in Myanmar, it said. Only one immigration officer was guarding the centre at the time, the report said.
STICKS, KNIVES, IRON BARS
Rioters used wooden sticks, knives and iron bars to attack each other, the report added. Local media said the clash lasted almost three hours and that about 130 people from Myanmar are detained at the centre.
The police report said the centre houses 284 people including migrants from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but has a capacity for only about 120.
Last month, at least 43 people were killed and 13,000 left homeless in days of violence in Meikhtila, a town in central Myanmar, between Buddhists and Muslims.
That followed two eruptions of violence last year – the first caused by the gang rape and murder of a Buddhist woman blamed on Muslims – in Rakhine State in western Myanmar, which officially killed 110 people and displaced 120,000, most of them stateless Rohingya Muslims.
An estimated 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar but are officially stateless. The Myanmar government denies them citizenship, regarding them as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Bangladesh also does not recognise them as citizens. The Rohingyas at the centre were seeking refuge outside Myanmar.