BELAWAN, Indonesia — Sectarian and ethnic tensions running high in Myanmar boiled over far outside the country’s borders Friday, when Buddhist fishermen and Muslim asylum seekers from the country brawled with knives and rocks at an Indonesian immigration detention center, leaving eight dead and another 15 injured.
The melee broke out in North Sumatra province, where more than 100 Rohingya migrants — most intercepted off Indonesia’s coast after fleeing their homeland in rickety boats — and 11 Buddhists accused of illegal fishing were being housed together, said local police chief Endro Kiswanto.
He said witnesses told police the clash started early Friday after a Rohingya Muslim cleric and a fisherman got into a heated debate about sectarian violence that erupted last month in central Myanmar when mobs of armed Buddhists torched Muslim-owned homes and shops, killing dozens and forcing thousands to flee.
The argument apparently started after the Rohingya migrants saw photos showing destruction caused by the recent violence, said Yusuf Umardani, detention center chief. Insults were traded, and the cleric was allegedly attacked by a fisherman. When the cleric screamed, his friends jumped in to help. From there, the fight broke out so quickly, security guards were too late to stop it.
‘‘The violence took place so fast, and it was completely unexpected because they had been living peacefully here so far,’’ Umardani said. ‘‘Most of the dead victims suffered severe head injuries. Apparently, they fought using anything that they could get — rocks, wood, chairs, and knives.’’
Eight Buddhists were killed, and 15 Rohingya were injured. Local police spokesman Colonel Raden Heru Prakoso said 18 Rohingya detainees have been named as suspects.
About 280 people are crammed into the overcrowded detention center — more than double its capacity.