An apparent assassination attempt on two ethnic Arakanese leaders in Malaysia on Wednesday night may be related to current religious and social strife in Burma’s western Arakan State, the men said during a press conference in Rangoon on Friday.
The two leaders, who visited Malaysia from Jan. 30 to Feb. 7, escaped unharmed from the shooting incident, which involved unknown gunmen in Kuala Lumpur.
“It could be related to the incidents inside the country [Burma],” said Dr. Aye Maung, who serves as the Arakan National Party’s second in command, referring to violence between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims in Burma.
Aye Thar Aung, who heads the recently formed Arakan National Party (ANP), and Aye Maung were in Malaysia to meet with Buddhist Arakanese migrants working in the fellow Southeast Asian nation.
Two gunmen on a motorbike shot at the men as they were leaving the Law Yat Plaza in Kuala Lumpur at about 11pm on Wednesday, said Aye Thar Aung. Both leaders were unharmed, but the BMW that was escorting them was damaged by the gunfire.
“When I heard the first shot, I thought it was a flat tire,” Aye Thar Aung said. “But then we heard someone saying, ‘Shooting!’ ‘Shooting!’ in Burmese. Our driver sped away. One of the gunmen on the motorbike had a beard. The place where we were shot at is near a construction site and there was no CCTV [closed-circuit television cameras] available.”
A total of six Arakanese, led by Aye Maung and Aye Thar Aung, arrived to Muslim-majority Malaysia on Jan. 30 and relied on Arakanese social groups in the country to handle security arrangements for the visiting delegation. Aye Maung, who is also a lawmaker in Parliament’s Upper House, said that because it was a social visit, they did not inform the Burmese Embassy of their travel plans and opted not to request protection from the mission in Kuala Lumpur.
Following the incident, Aye Maung informed the Burmese Embassy, which reported the case to Malaysian police, said Zaw Htay, a President’s Office director, on his Facebook page.
“As soon as the embassy was informed of the incident, the embassy contacted the Malaysian authorities and implemented security measures for Dr. Aye Maung and his men. Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs also escorted them during their travel back from their Le Meridien hotel to the Kulua Lumpur International Airport for their security.”
The Burmese Embassy in Malaysia is collaborating with the Malaysian government to investigate the incident and apprehend those responsible. No suspects have yet been detained in connection with the shooting.
Aye Thar Aung and Aye Maung flew back to Rangoon on Friday, where hundreds of supporters welcomed them at Rangoon International Airport.
The incident on Wednesday comes amid ongoing tensions in Arakan State between ethnic Arakan Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims. Violence between the two groups has flared on several occasions since June 2012, with Rohingya bearing the vast majority of casualties and displacements resulting from the unrest.
Religious conflict in Arakan State has drawn international concern, and regional leaders have also expressed fears that the situation could spill across borders. Those fears appeared to materialize in late May 2013, when violence among the Burmese migrant community in Kuala Lumpur left at least two people dead and was widely linked to Arakan State’s troubles.
In the early days of that same month, Indonesian police arrested four men who were later found guilty of attempting to bomb the Burmese Embassy in Jakarta. The bomb plot’s mastermind said the conspirators were attempting to avenge the killings of their Muslim brethren in Burma.