Remembering Kampung Medan : 8 Years on ...and the lies continue ...
Officials Minimize Worst Strife in 30 Years : Malaysia Is Stricken By Ethnic Bloodshed By Thomas Fuller Published: MONDAY, MARCH 12, 2001
KAMPUNG MEDAN, Malaysia: At least five people have been killed and dozens injured in the worst racial violence to strike Malaysia in three decades.
The police said Sunday that they had arrested 154 people in and around this gritty and impoverished suburb of Kuala Lumpur, where street fighting between Malays, the country's dominant ethnic group, and Indians has flared intermittently since Thursday.
Most of the victims were Indian, including 4 of the dead and 34 of the 37 wounded, according to the police. Many of the wounded had serious slash wounds and two men were reported to be in comas.
The police said they had confiscated iron rods, hoes, knives and samurai swords from people living in the area. The government deployed 400 army and police personnel in the streets of the suburb in an effort to stop the fighting.
The underlying causes of the violence remain unclear; many residents said they never had any trouble with their neighbors.
But some Indians, who are mostly Hindu, said groups of assailants chanted "God is Great!" in Arabic as they set upon their victims. Malays, who make up about 55 percent of the population, are almost all Muslim.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, urged the country's news media to play down the violence, telling local newspapers "it is not like what happened in Indonesia" — an apparent reference to recent ethnic clashes on Borneo. Many newspapers followed the prime minister's advice, burying the news of the killings in the inside pages of their Sunday editions.
But the proximity of the violence to modern, central Kuala Lumpur — Kamung Medan is a 40-minute drive from the world's tallest towers in the heart of the city — left many local officials clearly shaken.
"For 43 years we have built this nation," said Shamsuddin Alias, a district officer who spoke to a group of about 200 residents Sunday. "Now, for four days and three nights we have been living in anxiety just because of a few people among us." He added: "We must show strong solidarity between the races."
Lim Kit Siang, a leader of the political opposition, described the violence as the "worst ethnic clashes in the last 32 years."
Racial violence is relatively rare in Malaysia, with the last major clash occurring in 1969, when more than a hundred people were killed in election-related violence between Malays and Chinese, the country's second-largest ethnic group.
"Authorities should turn the ghetto settlements into a better living environment to prevent further incidents," Mr. Lim said.
Unlike the affluent parts of Kuala Lumpur that are a 20-minute drive away, Kampung Medan and the surrounding areas never saw the economic boom of the 1990s. A vast jumble of vacant lots and poorly maintained roads where families often live on less than $300 a month, the neighborhood is sandwiched between a Guinness brewery, a tire factory and other industrial sites.
Indian residents in squatter areas complained Sunday that the police, who are overwhelmingly Malay and Muslim, had not done enough to stop the violence.
Parameswary Batumalai, 28, who lives along a row of cheaply made cinder-block houses with zinc roofs, described in an interview Sunday the killing of one of her neighbors, Muniratnem, a father of four who worked as a bartender in central Kuala Lumpur.
The police, she said, stood by and watched as Mr. Muniratnem was beaten by four young men armed with sticks and motorcycle helmets.
Miss Parameswary said she witnessed the beating after being roused from her home at 3 a.m. on Saturday by the screaming of Mr. Muniratnem. She left her house carrying a stick that she had fashioned into a weapon by driving a nail into one end.
Although she could see Mr. Muniratnem being attacked, she and dozens of other neighbors were stopped by the police from going to his aid, she said.
"I could see him being beaten and heard his screams," Miss Parameswary said. "A police car pulled up and stopped us from going any further."
Mr. Muniratnem's body was cremated Sunday morning.
The accounts of such violence are unlikely to be told in the local newspapers.
Malaysia's deputy prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, advised the local media Saturday to get their information from the police, and not from people living in the affected suburbs. - International Herald Tribune