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13 children die in Myanmar mosque fire

Muslim men carried a coffin containing the body of a victim of the fire on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar.

Gemunu Amarasinghe/Associated Press

Muslim men carried a coffin containing the body of a victim of the fire on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar.

YANGON, Myanmar — Police in Myanmar said they are investigating the head of a mosque and a Muslim teacher for possible negligence after a predawn fire swept a religious dormitory Tuesday, killing 13 children in a blaze that raised new concern over sectarian tensions that have plagued the country since anti-Muslim violence hit its heartland last month.

Authorities blamed the fire on an electrical short circuit and deployed riot police to maintain calm. But some Muslims remained suspicious, saying it was set intentionally.

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Myanmar has been on edge after sectarian unrest between Buddhists and Muslims erupted in the central city of Meikhtila in March, killing dozens of people and displacing more than 12,000, mostly Muslims. The violence has since spread to several other towns where extremist Buddhist mobs have torched or ransacked mosques and Muslim-owned property.

Police said 71 children lived in the burned compound in eastern Yangon — which encompasses a mosque, a school, and a dormitory — and most were able to escape by running out of a door that rescue workers knocked open. Security bars blocked most of the building’s windows, which were still stained by black smoke hours after firefighters put out the flames.

A mosque member, Soe Myint, said most of the children, who had been sent to the religious boarding school by their parents, were sleeping on the ground floor when the blaze began and were able to flee.

But 16 were sleeping in a small loft and were trapped when the stairs leading to it caught fire. Three boys jumped to safety and the rest died, he said. He said he helped carry the dead out of the mosque, and he did not believe the fire was caused by a short circuit. He urged authorities to launch a thorough investigation.

‘‘The whole mosque smelled of diesel,’’ he said. ‘‘We don’t use diesel at the school.’’

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