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A fire blamed on an electrical fault killed 13 teenagers at a Muslim school in Myanmar's main city Tuesday, police and witnesses said, raising fears of a further eruption of tensions after a wave of religious unrest.
Dozens of police and soldiers flanked the building in Yangon as the government urged people not to believe rumours about the cause of the fire, which comes just days after Buddhist-Muslim killings and arson spread across areas of central Myanmar.
Shortly after the blaze around 200 local people crowded near the scorched blue mosque and religious school, where dozens of children had been sleeping when the blaze broke out early Tuesday.
"The whole country is worried now for Yangon, and is wondering whether this was a crime," Ye Naung Thein, secretary of Muslim organisation Myanmar Mawlwy federation, told AFP at the scene.
Hundreds of mourners, many praying and weeping, packed into a Muslim cemetery in a suburb north of Yangon as burials began for the victims, with many among the crowd voicing suspicions the fire was started deliberately.
A teacher who was awoken as the fire tore through the building and evacuated survivors told AFP he had smelt petrol during the blaze, echoing the testimony of several witnesses.
"I think someone started the fire intentionally," said Khin Maung Hla, 35, adding the victims were aged between 12 and 15.
Waiting to bury her 13-year-old boy, Nyunt Zaw wept uncontrollably. "I lost my youngest son. I am devastated," she told AFP.
Emergency services had to break down locked doors to free the children sleeping in a dormitory in the building, according to government spokesman Ye Htut.
Earlier, police at the scene told AFP that most of the victims of the fire were children, although authorities did not release their ages.
Police promised to establish a committee -- including Muslim leaders -- to probe the cause, while the government urged people to avoid spreading rumours.
"Please don't believe some news on the Internet portraying this case as a religious conflict," Ye Htut posted on his Facebook page, adding initial findings were that the fire was caused by faulty wiring.
Communal tensions are running high in the former army-ruled country after at least 43 people died last month in a wave of sectarian violence that saw mosques and homes burned down in several towns in central Myanmar.
The government has imposed emergency rule and curfews in some areas.
Electrical fires are common because of poor safety standards in poverty-stricken Myanmar, which is emerging from decades of military rule.
Some Muslim leaders, however, said they believed the fire was not an accident because students and teachers said they had slipped on an oily liquid on the ground floor while escaping.
"The oil smelled like petrol or diesel," said Shine Win, a Muslim leader, urging the government to "reveal the truth".
Myanmar Mawlwy federation's Ye Naung Thein urged people to wait for the result of government investigations into the fire.
Yangon has been tense but mostly peaceful following the clashes, which were apparently triggered by an argument in a gold shop in the town of Meiktila that sparked a riot that later spread.
The conflict poses a major challenge for President Thein Sein, who has won international praise for his reform efforts since taking office two years ago.
The situation has calmed in recent days after the former general on Thursday vowed a tough response over the violence, which he blamed on "political opportunists and religious extremists".
Sectarian strife involving Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year left at least 180 people dead.