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Government probes deadly school fire

Lack of Muslim involvement raises questions

Mourners at the funeral of one of the children who died in the blaze (photo: AFP) Mourners at the funeral of one of the children who died in the blaze (photo: AFP)
  • Thomas Toe, Yangon and John Zaw, Mandalay
  • Myanmar
  • April 4, 2013
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After thousands attended the funerals of 13 children who died in a school fire in Yangon, the government announced yesterday that an investigation is taking place. 

A seven-member commission has been tasked to establish the cause of the fire at an Islamic school and will submit its findings by tomorrow (Friday), the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

Locals fear the blaze was linked to last week’s anti-Islamic violence, but the Yangon Division Chief Minister has said it was started by faulty electrical wiring. 

Although state-run television announced the commission would include Islamic leaders, none are among the seven. 

Sein Myint, a member of the Muslim network based in Yangon, said that the exclusion of any Islamic leaders creates doubts about the investigation.

“We want transparency, and a person like Aung San Suu Kyi whom all people trust should be included in the commission,” Sein Myint said. 

Toe Aung, the leader of the commission, would only say that the investigation was in progress. 

Local police are working with the commission and have aready given them evidence. "It should be easy for [the commission] because we have found the cause," said Myint Aye, head of the district police. 

About 70 children were reportedly sleeping in dormitories at the school when the fire broke out under the stairs. The 13 victims could not get out in time and died of suffocation, authorities said. 

The Associated Press reported that city police Chief Win Naing said the head of the mosque and a teacher are being investigated, but no arrests have been made. "As the two people in charge, they are responsible for this and we have to take action against them," he said.

Police are still deployed around the local mosque and streets near the school to prevent the further unrest, residents said.

United States ambassador Derek Mitchell issued a statement saying he was deeply saddened by the deaths.  He called on the government to “conduct a thorough and transparent probe into the cause of the fire.” 

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