KUALA LUMPUR, June 10 (Xinhua) -- Malaysian authorities are working to identify the cause of death after over a dozen indigenous people in an isolated village in northern Kelantan state succumbed to a mystery illness, Malaysian Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said on Monday.
Dzulkefly explained that authorities were trying to locate the graves of 12 of the 14 indigenous people of the Batek tribe who had died over the past month with authorities confirming that at least two had died due to pneumonia.
He added that doing so was vital to enable the bodies to be exhumed for post-mortem to determine their actual cause of death and whether their diseases had indeed infected others in the village, reported state news agency Bernama.
Reports of the deaths had surfaced last week, with the head of the village where the indigenous tribe lived in claiming that mining had contaminated their water supply leading to illness and death.
The village, located deep in the state interior, is isolated and the indigenous tribe had frequented the border between Kelantan and Pahang state to the south, with many of those being buried in the jungle, according to customary rites.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department P Waytha Moorthy on Sunday confirmed the 14 deaths and at least two were due to pneumonia with a total of 83 inhabitants of an indigenous village were being treated with 46 of those being hospitalized.
This was followed by a statement from Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail who warned that the government would punish any party found to have contaminated the source of drinking water used by the indigenous people.
Malaysia has 18 officially recognized indigenous tribes with the Batek tribe being one of the smaller groups, which has a population of less than 2,000.