YANGON - A fire at a Muslim school in the Burmese city of Rangoon has killed 13 children in the country marred by anti-Islam sectarian violence, as Muslim leaders expressed suspicions on the cause of the fire despite police assurances that it was accidental.
"Thirteen people, mostly children, were killed during a fire at a Muslim religious school in downtown Yangon," a police officer at the scene told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday, April 2.
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"We assume that it was due to an electrical short circuit."The two-storey building, which housed a mosque and a religious school in eastern Rangoon, sheltered about 75 orphans.
One report said all of the victims were boys.
According to government spokesman Ye Htut, the doors of the dormitory were locked preventing the students from escaping until emergency services arrived.
Riot police were sent to the area as people gathered, concerned that the fire was linked to recent communal violence in other parts of the country.
Most of the children escaped by running out of a door after police knocked it open.
Police promised to establish a committee -- including Muslim leaders -- to look into the cause of the blaze.
The fire comes amid an upsurge in violence between Buddhists and Muslims.
Recent violence has erupted against Muslims, leaving at least 43 people dead and several mosques burnt in a week of sectarian violence in the central city of Meiktila.
The violence started by an argument between a Buddhist couple and gold shop owners and spread to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Burma.
It spread later to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Burma, with the latest incidents only a two-hour drive from the commercial capital, Yangon.
Despite police assurances, Muslim leaders voiced suspicions on the cause of the blaze, referring to students and teachers testimony that they had slipped on an oily liquid on the ground floor while escaping.
"The oil smelled like petrol or diesel," Shine Win, a Muslim leader, urging the government to "reveal the truth", told AFP.
One student who escaped said his legs and clothes were dirty with the oily liquid.
"I slipped when I stepped on something like oil and almost fell down," he said.
As the fire was so big at that time, I didn't recognise what it was.
Tension between Buddhists and Muslims has been simmering since last year's sectarian violence in western Rakhine state, which displaced thousands of Muslims.
Monks were seen igniting the violence by preaching a so-called 960 movement, which represents a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism that urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim-run shops and services.
The number is derived from Buddhism and refers to various attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood.
However, it has come to represent a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism which urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim-run shops and services.
Burma's Muslims -- largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent -- account for an estimated four percent of the roughly 60 million population.
Muslims entered Burma en masse for the first time as indentured laborers from the Indian subcontinent during British colonial rule, which ended in 1948.
But despite their long history, they have never fully been integrated into the country.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net