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Malaysia to train mediators to defuse racial spats

Malaysia to train mediators to defuse racial spats

Malaysia's government plans to train special mediators to resolve disputes between neighbors of different races in a bid to prevent communal tensions in the ethnically diverse country, officials said Tuesday.
About 300 volunteer community representatives would undergo mediation courses starting next month as part of the government's efforts to curb racial and religious friction, said Azman Amin Hassan, director general of the National Unity and Integration Department.
"They will be residents who can talk to both sides in a dispute to defuse racial problems," Azman told The Associated Press.
Authorities have acknowledged that racial polarization has increased in recent years even though the Malay Muslim majority still has generally amicable relations with the large ethnic Chinese and Indian communities, who are mainly Buddhists, Christians and Hindus.
Malaysia has not suffered major ethnic violence since 1969, when riots fueled partly by Malay rancor over the Chinese's wealth left more than 200 people dead.
Nevertheless, grievances between ethnic communities have occasionally sparked bloodshed. A dispute between Malays who celebrated a wedding and their Indian neighbors who held a funeral at the same time prompted violence that killed six people near Kuala Lumpur in 2001.
Wan Abdul Halim Othman, a sociologist who will be training the mediators, said the program will initially be implemented in urban areas where the risk of racial disputes is relatively high because many multiethnic residents live alongside each other.
"We need neutral mediators who can prevent the usual conflicts between neighbors from accumulating and transforming into ethnic problems," he said. "In disputes involving different ethnic groups, people in the community tend to take sides based on race, but nobody mediates."
The program would initially be rolled out in Kuala Lumpur, central Selangor state, northern Penang state and southern Johor state. If successful, it would be implemented nationwide.
Ethnic divisions have deepened amid increasing complaints by minorities about special privileges enjoyed by Malays in jobs, education and other areas. Some also say their religious rights have become secondary to Islam. The government has denied any unfair treatment.