US, EU Call for Investigation of Fatal Rangoon Fire

Authorities in Rangoon investigate after a fire broke out at an Islamic boarding school in Rangoon early on Tuesday morning. (Photo: STEVE TICKNER / THE IRRAWADDY)

RANGOON—The European Union and the United States have called on Burma’s government to thoroughly investigate the cause of a fire at an Islamic school in Rangoon that killed 13 children early on Tuesday morning.

In a statement released in Brussels, the European Union said EU High Representative Catherine Ashton was “deeply troubled” by reports of the fatal fire and called on authorities “to urgently conduct a thorough investigation that will leave no doubt as to the causes of this tragic accident.”

In a similar statement, US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell on Tuesday urged the government to “to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the cause of the fire.”

The fire broke out shortly after midnight on Tuesday at Saudikia Madrasa, an Islamic boarding school in east Rangoon’s Botahtaung Township.

Authorities blamed the incident on an overheated voltage regulator and said there had been no criminal activity.

However, some bystanders expressed suspicions that the fire was an act of arson, as it came on the heels of anti-Muslim riots last month in central Burma that left more than 40 people dead and hundreds of homes torched.

The Rangoon Division government hosted two press conferences on Tuesday, hoping to clarify the situation and prevent the spread of any religious tension or violence.

Lt-Col Myint Aye from the Rangoon Division police force told reporters that a Muslim teacher at the school agreed with authorities that the fire had been caused by an overheated voltage regulator in the building.

The teacher, Zayar Phyo, had earlier been accused of spreading rumors that the fire was caused by arson, but changed his stance after being detained by authorities.

“He admitted that the fire was caused by the voltage regulator after we showed him our evidence, including from interviews with three boys [who escaped from the blaze],” Myint Aye told reporters at the Rangoon regional Parliament building.

Myint Aye said another teacher, Khin Maung Aye, had fled from the scene after facing accusations of negligence in the fire.

“He ran away and won’t dare to come out and see us yet,” Myint Aye said.

The chief minister of Rangoon Division, Myint Swe, said the two teachers wanted to hide their alleged negligence by blaming the incident on arson.

“It is very natural for people to look for scapegoats when they’re responsible for a problem,” Myint Swe said. “They [the teachers] were afraid because they made mistakes, and that’s why they said other people set the school on fire.”

About 70 boys were living at the two-storey boarding school.

The police said the fire likely began downstairs at the voltage regulator, which was installed next to a ladder, and then spread upstairs.

Most of the children were sleeping on the first floor, but 13 boys who slept upstairs were unable to escape and died in the blaze.

Myint Aye said that after the fire started, children trying to put out the blaze may have accidentally fanned the flames by knocking over a fuel can inside the building.

He said police officers discovered a severely melted diesel container after the fire.

When police interviewed boys who escaped, he said, the boys admitted to spilling the diesel while attempting to put out the fire.

“I want you all to consider how impossible it would be for someone to come and set the mosque on fire, since there were guards at the building on duty at night,” he said.

He added that city authorities were determined to prevent any religious clashes such as those in the central Burma town of Meikhtila last month.

“We will not let Rangoon be damaged like Meikhtila, since this [Rangoon] is an important commercial city,” he said.

Rangoon Division authorities last week ordered shops to close early, at 9 pm, in a bid to prevent riots in central Burma’s Mandalay and Pegu divisions from spreading into Burma’s biggest city.

The city administration has tasked a seven-member team with investigating the fire. The inquiry is being led by the secretary of Rangoon’s electricity supply board, and the team must submit its findings by Friday.

“Rumor has it that the fire at the school was an act of arson, so we asked the government to investigate the reason behind the fire,” said Kyaw Khin, secretary of the All Burma Muslim Federation.

“They agreed to do so and released their findings at the press conference yesterday evening. I’m pleased with the results they found out.”

“We’re happy the government agreed to cooperate with us for the investigation,” he added. “We really want to know what started this fire.”

Kyaw Naing, a Muslim lawyer who has been following the case, called on authorities to bring in independent experts to investigate the police’s claims.

“The government says the fire was started by an electrical problem; let an expert investigate to determine whether that’s true,” he said. “The accounts I’m hearing in the streets are different than what the government is currently reporting.

The government needs to bring in victims as well who escaped from the fire. It is very important to listen to the voice of the victims.”

10 Responses to US, EU Call for Investigation of Fatal Rangoon Fire

  1. North Korea hates US so use their powerful N weapon to threat US and UN to displace their anger and to reject UN more sanction on North Korea.
    Than shwe is copying North Korea to draw international attention ( by killing Muslim ) to get more donation from rich Muslim countries. And than shwe also wants to send all rich Muslim from Burma to other rich countries for settlement, like Rohingya issue. As such than shwe can please naive Buddhist monks in Burma for his past wrong doing ( killing monks in 2007). From 2008 constitution, than shwe and his private army thugs can do, can kill and can say what they want.

    • I am not sure I’ve gotten your analogy. North Korean and the U.S. are in a blinking contest. Whoever blinks first loses. They won’t come to blows for obvious reasons, NUKES.
      On the other hand, what Burmen did to the Muslims was a street mugging. It is not a contest. It is a one-sided affair. Some pothead, hot-headed Burmen take their frustration out on another race as always.

  2. This is a serious task which shouldn’t be wrecked by authorities by doing business as usual. As I see it, some certain officials are committing one publicity blunder after another like novices.

    While there are suspicions by people concerned — now also by many new allies in the West — an authoritative group of present and former army officers assembled news conferences in a hurry and made one-sided disclosures and accusations. Why can’t they include officials of credible Muslim organizations in the briefings? All self-righteous conducts under the military regime must be left behind forever in the past. Authorities must manage every task in open and frank manners. Doing inadvertent and unnecessary cover-ups or dubious accounts will only lead to doubts and unforeseen consequences. Please do not invite outside interferences due to incompetent and indiligent behaviors.

    All investigations and every report in regard to the tragic fire must be led not only by government officials but also in coordination with and participation by well-respected Muslim elders. Please explain to the world all the facts about the incident in clear and candid assessments and let the chips fall where they may.

  3. The fire was due to overheated voltage regulator according to Police. I am not electrician but just wonder the voltage regulator is “overheated” at the very early morning as most of electrical applicances were not used (I guess) unless there were air conditoners installed at the mosque.

    I agreed with Kyaw Naing. An independent investigator is required for this case.

  4. It should be one public relations blunder after another instead of publicity blunder. Thanks.

  5. It is time for an outside independent investigation of the cause and it is time for the Lady to speak.

  6. Look at the photo above. The madrasa school is more like a fort with only one door as an entrance. The school’s officials confirmed that victims were those sleeping upstairs. Here, let’s use our logic in imagining what could have happened (I hate to do this but just to help us envision the case): an external party break in through the only entrance which faces the whole road without anyone noticed, soak people with diesel (none of them woke up from that, they must have been drugged as well the night before!), start the fire, burn the diesel soaked boys, come down (they didn’t do anything to those sleeping downstairs) without waking up anyone, lock the door many times in cold blooded manner and finally disappear.

    Come on, people!

    Please try not to complicate the already complex situation.

  7. Call FBI
    For Neutrality……

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