Myanmar: 13 children killed in fire at Yangon Muslim school


Policemen stand guard in front of an Islamic school where a fire broke out on April 2, 2013, killing 13 pupils.


Ye Aung Thu

Thirteen children are dead after a fire at a Muslim school in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon.

Around 70 pupils were asleep in an upstairs dormitory when the blaze broke out early Tuesday morning, police said. Most escaped, but 13 boys, all aged 12, were suffocated by the smoke.

Authorities have blamed the fire on faulty electrics.

After two weeks of sectarian riots in elsewhere in Myanmar, however, there has been speculation that it could have been started deliberately.

Witnesses told Agence France-Presse that they had smelled something like gasoline, and described noticing an oily liquid on the floor as they escaped the building.

Crowds gathered outside the school Tuesday morning and later, at the boys' funerals, many of them voicing their suspicions and demanding that the government "reveal the truth."

"The whole country is worried now for Yangon, and is wondering whether this was a crime," the head of one Muslim organization told AFP.

Riot police were deployed to guard the school, but no incidents have been reported.

Government officials moved quickly to dismiss the rumors of foul play and assured that there would be a full investigation, assisted by local Muslim groups.

The recent unrest may still have been an indirect factor in the boys' deaths: police said the school doors were double-locked for extra security, which made it harder for pupils to escape.

Riots broke out in the central town of Meikhtila two weeks ago, leaving more than 40 people dead. Since then mosques, shops and homes belonging to Muslims have been destroyed in several more townships between Meikhtila and the capital, Naypyitaw.

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