Man­dalay MPs take on ‘limbo ho­tels’ is­sue

The Myanmar Times - - News - EI EI THU eiei­thu@mm­

THE fu­ture of Ba­gan’s “limbo ho­tels” hangs on Man­dalay Re­gion MPs. They are ex­pected to rec­om­mend changes to a 1998 law so as to clar­ify the sta­tus of the ho­tels, some of which are still un­der con­struc­tion. Lo­cal vil­lagers are also com­plain­ing they have been caught in the le­gal cross­fire.

U Win Myint Khaing, chair of the hlut­taw’s Re­li­gious, So­cial and Cul­tural Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said this was its first at­tempt to un­tan­gle the com­plex le­gal sit­u­a­tion that has con­fused land­lords, hote­liers and lo­cal res­i­dents. The seven-mem­ber com­mit­tee un­der­took a three-day sur­vey from July 6 to 9 and is now pre­par­ing to re­port back to the re­gion par­lia­ment.

“We’re in­ves­ti­gat­ing those is­sues in Ba­gan at the re­quest of Man­dalay Re­gion Hlut­taw’s chair. This is the first time the com­mit­tee has done an in­ves­ti­ga­tion on the ground from a re­gional point of view,” said U Win Myint Khaing.

“We will con­cen­trate on the weak­nesses of the 1998 cul­tural law. Hlut­taw mem­bers will de­cide whether or not it re­quires amend­ment, and make rep­re­sen­ta­tions to the Union-level hlut­taw,” he said.

The 1998 law es­tab­lishes three zones: the Mon­u­ment Zone (MZ), the An­cient Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Zone (AZ) and the Pro­tec­tive Zone (PZ). It does not stip­u­late an ur­ban zone where lo­cal res­i­dents would be al­lowed to live and work.

The long-run­ning “limbo ho­tels” prob­lem arose when the 42 hote­liers were cleared to build in Ba­gan by the Ar­chae­ol­ogy Depart­ment in 2013, but sub­se­quently or­dered to stop work and not to take in guests.

The guest­houses, mostly mod­est es­tab­lish­ments run by lo­cal res­i­dents, are deemed to be too close to Ba­gan’s famed tem­ples, a fac­tor that could put at risk the city’s bid to be in­cluded on the UNESCO World Her­itage list­ing.

As a re­sult, the Min­istry of Cul­ture re­in­stated a zon­ing ban put in place in 1998 but rarely en­forced since then. Ear­lier this year, 129 prop­er­ties deemed to be op­er­at­ing too close to the an­cient site were given a 10-year edict to move to a spe­cial ho­tel zone, in­clud­ing the 42 guest­houses.

U Khin Maung Myint, chair of the Re­gional Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, told The Myan­mar Times, “We would never have started build­ing the ho­tels if we hadn’t re­ceived per­mis­sion ini­tially. We’ve lost a lot of money be­cause of this ban. We’re very up­set that they’re treat­ing us like squat­ters.”

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of lo­cal vil­lagers, U Win Ko, said even some of his neigh­bours in Myin Ka­par vil­lage had been caught in the le­gal cross­fire. Those who lived op­po­site Ma Nu Har Pagoda had been for­bid­den to build on their own land. The for­mer mil­i­tary regime had com­pen­sated the own­ers of 96 houses on about 34 acres of land seized to make way for a road be­tween new Ba­gan and old Ba­gan in 1990, he said.

“We would like to build on the land be­cause the pop­u­la­tion is in­creas­ing, but the Ar­chae­ol­ogy Depart­ment threat­ened to take le­gal ac­tion if we did that,” he said.

An­other vil­lager, Ko Aung Min Khaing, said, “We’re afraid to stay here be­cause we can’t af­ford the rent. The Ar­chae­ol­ogy Depart­ment is ban­ning us from liv­ing here.”

He said his fam­ily had bought a 40-by-60-foot plot for K3 mil­lion ear­lier this year. Three fam­i­lies, com­pris­ing 11 peo­ple, are liv­ing in one small house.

“We’re just day labour­ers on con­struc­tion sites. We knew this land was not com­pletely clear and there was a risk. But we would be very happy if we were al­lowed to stay,” he said.

The depart­ment has tar­geted 30 houses be­cause it needs to es­tab­lish a vil­lage bound­ary be­tween the pro­hib­ited zones, said U Aung Aung Kyaw, direc­tor of the Ba­gan Ar­chae­ol­ogy Depart­ment.

“We can’t al­low houses or build­ings to be con­structed on the le­gal bound­ary. Any­one who breaks this rule is con­sid­ered to be a squat­ter and we will sub­mit the mat­ter to the Ba­gan An­cient Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Man­age­ment Com­mit­tee,” he said.

“An ur­ban zone for res­i­dences may be in­cluded when we change the 1998 law, but I can’t con­firm that. Peo­ple must obey the law on the con­ser­va­tion of an­cient cul­tural sites whether there is an ur­ban zone or not,” he said.

Photo: Thiri Lu

Sev­eral of Ba­gan’s ‘limbo ho­tels’ were nearly fin­ished con­struc­tion when they were told they could not open to vis­i­tors.

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