Monday, 18 November 2019

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Suspicions flare about Yangon mosque fire

The charred, barred windows of the upper storey of the bright blue mosque and school on Yangon's 48th Street tell a horrific tale—here, in the early hours of Tuesday, 13 young boys died in a fire that blazed through their dormitory.

The fire services and government authorities have responded quickly: “The fire—caused by the overheating of a transformer placed under the staircase—spread, trapping the boys sleeping in the attic. As a result, 13 twelve-year-old boys died of suffocation after inhaling smoke," a fire service officer said, reading from a statement, according to a report by Reuters.

Deputy Minister of Information Ye Htut echoed the line that the school fire had occurred because of a faulty transformer inside the school.

However, following the recent communal violence in central Myanmar, in which at least 43 people have died and 12,000 displaced, many observers harbor suspicions as to what may have caused this fire.

On the afternoon of April 2, as dozens of heavily armed police officers guarded 48th Street where authorities were still investigating the scene of the blaze, the funerals of the boys took place and emotions ran high among members of the surrounding Muslim community.

"We believe it was a deliberate attack," said Ruhl Amin, a translator assisting the Imam of M.M. Raunaq, a mosque on 101st Street, where surviving children and adults from the 48th Street mosque were taken on Tuesday morning.

"We asked the people who came to the mosque, senior people and children—they said they smelled gasoline. They [the suspected attackers] threw something in from outside," he said.

Their suspicions are not isolated. Eva Kusuma Sundari, ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus President and Indonesian Member of Parliament, has made a public call for justice to be sought if, in fact, it was arson.

However, if it was not, she said in her statement, "then this must be clearly proven to prevent a continued decline in inter-communal relations that threaten the security of all Burmese [Myanmar] and the fragile reform process in the country.”

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