Authorities to Investigate Cause of Mosque Blaze

By Nyein Nyein 8 October 2012

Local authorities in the Arakan State capital of Sittwe said they will launch an investigation into the cause of a fire that destroyed a building within the compound of the city’s main mosque on Sunday afternoon.

“Although there have been various accusations about how the fire started, we will carry out a full investigation before we reach any conclusions,” Hla Hein, the state’s chief justice and acting government spokesperson on recent communal clashes, told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

The blaze, which burned for about two hours before being put out by firefighters, also damaged homes owned by Muslim residents living nearby, but left the main religious structure, or musallah, unscathed.

“When the smoke started rising from the area of the mosque, security forces went to see what was happening and saw some paper and garbage on fire,” said a Sittwe resident who was passing by at the time.

Since riots broke out between Muslims and Buddhists in northern Arakan Sate in early June, security forces have maintained a heavy presence near the mosque, which is located on the city’s main street.

According to areport by Britain’s Channel Four, the fire started after around “one thousand” ethnic Arakanese Buddhists attacked the mosque. However, the report does not cite any sources, and local residents told The Irrawaddy that the fire started within the compound, which is behind a high wall and off-limits to outsiders.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in August, local security forces were themselves accused of participating in attacks on the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who live in northern Arakan State.

More than 80 people died after Arakanese and Rohingyas clashed in a series of reprisal attacks sparked by the rape and murder of an Arakanese Buddhist woman in late May. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the riots, with many still in temporary shelters set up by the Burmese government and international organizations.

Last week, Muslims in neighboring Bangladesh torched Buddhist temples in Cox’s Bazar, an area that is home to thousands of Rohingya refugees. Buddhist monks held protests in Rangoon last Friday to condemn the incident.