Malaysian tribal leaders blame a group of Western tourists, including two Canadians, for triggering a deadly earthquake by taking naked photos of themselves on a sacred mountain, a local official told NBC News on Monday.
Tribal and political leaders across the state of Sabah have called for the arrest of the 10 tourists after they allegedly stripped on Mount Kinabalu last month, said Masidi Manjun, the state's tourism, culture and environment minister.
Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of reports that the two Canadians had been barred from leaving the country. The department said it was working with local officials but was unable to confirm whether there had been any arrests.
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The Kadazan-Dusun tribe believe that the "disrespectful" actions of the tourists were responsible for triggering the earthquake, Manjun said.
"Mount Kinabalu is considered a very sacred place by the natives of Sabah, and any action that could be interpreted as belittling the mountain is considered a very serious offense," Manjun said.
"The belief among the natives is that the souls of the departed will rest on the mountain before the day of judgment," he said. "They practice rituals to honor the mountain."
He added: "Do I believe that their actions triggered the quake? God only knows."
The Kadazan-Dusun people make up 30 percent of Sabah’s population of 3.2 million. Some 70 percent of the Kadazan-Dusuns are "native or indigenous people," Manjun said, and the group operates under a system of "native" law, which runs separate from the Westernized legal system implemented by British colonialism.
The tribal chiefs believe that the alleged actions of the tourist group were illegal under this system of law, Manjun said.
Alexander Smith is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital based in London.