Rangoon government officials have accused two school imams of being ‘largely’ responsible for the fire that killed 13 children on Tuesday, which authorities claim was caused by an overheated power transformer.
During a press conference this afternoon in the commercial capital, Rangoon division’s chief minister Myint Swe dismissed rumours that the blaze was started by arson and pinned the blame on the two on-site school administrators.
“Since the fire was caused by the power transformer, it is largely the responsibility of the individuals in the building. There is a power generator to use during power outages and so there could be some [kind of] fuel or diesel stored around,” said Myint Swe, in reference to allegations from locals who claimed that some type of combustible fuel had been used to set the building ablaze.
“Police colonel Tin Win didn’t see [any fuel] when he arrived at the scene. The officials didn’t find the fuel as described in the rumours. However, when there is a fire, the individuals responsible would be charged and they could have been trying to put the blame on some others. And they created confusion by doing so.”
Rangoon Police Chief Win Naing said authorities had carried out a “thorough inquiry” at the scene and identified the two imams as “prime suspects”.
“[The children] shouldn’t have died — in fact there was a lot of opportunity to save them if it had not been for the slow decision making process and response from the mosque supervisors,” said the police chief.
“We heard that in a desperate attempt to cover up their fault, they have been accusing these ‘unscrupulous perpetrators’ of starting the fire.”
According to a report in the AFP, a teacher who was sleeping in the school when the fire erupted said he smelled petrol inside the building.
“I think someone started the fire intentionally,” Khin Maung Hla told the AFP.
Another teacher who spoke to DVB on the condition of anonymity said the fire might have been caused by clothing that was soaked in petrol.
“I didn’t know it was started from a wire-shock. What I saw was two items of women’s clothing that stank of diesel fuel near to the staircase where the fire broke out, along with an iron rod. We took photos of those and handed them over to the officials.”
According to the teacher, there were 17 children upstairs at the time of the blaze and four of them survived with minor injuries.
An official investigation commission has been established that will include Islamic religious leaders, firefighters, representatives from the Rangoon City Electricity Power Corporation and police officials, who will be tasked with identifying the source of the blaze.
The tragic fire comes as tensions between Muslims and the country’s majority Buddhists are at a fever pitch following sectarian riots in March, which largely targeted Islamic communities in central Burma.