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Burma Launches Commission to Investigate Mosque Fire

Police stand in front of a mosque and school dormitory that were damaged by a fire in Rangoon, Burma, April 2, 2013.
Burma has announced an investigation into a fire at a Rangoon Islamic center that left 13 children dead, after many local Muslims expressed concern it may have been intentionally lit.

The official New Light of Myanmar said Wednesday a seven-member government commission will look into the blaze, which local officials said was caused by an electrical problem.

The Tuesday fire came amid a wave of anti-Muslim violence, which has seen mosques and other Muslim-owned properties destroyed in several central Burmese cities.

Security remained tight Wednesday outside the Rangoon mosque, where riot police continue to patrol the streets. Authorities fear the incident could stoke further religious tension in the majority-Buddhist country.

Hla Tin, a Rangoon resident, says rumors of who is responsible are spreading fear throughout the community.

"People are saying the fire at the school was not an accident, someone started it. But the news released on the television by the government says it's an accident," he said. "We never believed the government news before, but now I believe. This is real."

The government says the results of the fact-finding mission will be released on Friday. Local authorities have already blamed two mosque workers who were sleeping at the facility for an inadequate response to the blaze.

Burma has seen a resurgence of Buddhist-Muslim violence after clashes broke out last month in the central city of Meikhtila. The violence later spread to several other cities, killing at least 43 people.

President Thein Sein, who leads the country's nominally civilian government, has vowed a tough response to the sectarian unrest, which has threatened to undermine the country's democratic reforms.

Last year, violence between Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims left nearly 200 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced in western Rakhine state.