Burmese Muslims Skeptical of Mosque Fire That Killed 13 Children
It’s important to highlight that there are conflicting reports on what caused this tragic fire and that it is not established that it was the result of arsonists. The persecution that Muslims have faced in Myanmar has been on a horrific scale and does not engender trust in the authorities.
(The Wall Street Journal)
The U.S. and European Union have called on Myanmar authorities to thoroughly investigate this week’s fire at a Muslim school in downtown Yangon that killed 13 schoolchildren, underscoring international concern about the cause of the blaze.
Myanmar police say the fire was caused by an accidental electrical short-circuit. But some Muslims are skeptical, believing someone in the majority Buddhist population might have set the fire deliberately.
That skepticism has added to the already tense situation between two groups that have coexisted tenuously since riots that began on March 20 destroyed the central city of Meiktila. Hundreds of Buddhists and Muslims fought in the streets, fueling barely contained anger that turned into devastating fires that destroyed mosques and homes in the southern state of Bago. A state of emergency still stands in sensitive areas of Myanmar, particularly in Mandalay and Bago, parts of which have relatively high Muslim populations.
“Given the severity of this event, we encourage the government to work closely with members of the community to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the cause of the fire,” U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell said in a statement Tuesday.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative, said separately that she was “deeply troubled” by the deaths, and called on authorities to “urgently conduct a thorough investigation that will leave no doubt as to the causes” of the fire.
Yagon authorities have formed an investigation team – including the fire department, police force and religious affairs department – to look into the fire’s cause. Findings are expected by Friday. Initially, though, officials including President Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut blamed a faulty transformer under the staircase of the two-storey complex, which they said spread the fire from there to upstairs.
The religious complex that burned included a school, a dormitory and a prayer room, and housed about 70 children, many of them orphans. Most escaped safely. According to Ko Ko Latt, a spokesman for the All-Myanmar Muslim Organization that helped with funeral proceedings, the children, aged 12 to 16, were trapped in the building and died of smoke inhalation.
Tuesday’s fire broke out at 2:30 a.m., witnesses said. A crowd of 200 or so worried Muslims first gathered outside the mosque as firefighters put out the flames, though no scuffles happened there.
“[Muslims in the area] were distraught about the loss of life, and distressed about how they would determine the true cause of the incident – expressing an air of impossibility at independently assessing the causes,” said Daniel Gelfer, director at the political consultancy group Vriens & Partners, which has offices close to the religious complex.