Talk of her­itage sta­tus ap­pli­ca­tion brings fresh fears for Ba­gan lo­cals

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

BA­GAN res­i­dents who were pre­vi­ously forced from their homes to al­low the de­vel­op­ment of a her­itage site are liv­ing in fear of a fresh at­tempt to evict them.

In 1990, more than 4000 res­i­dents were thrown out of old Ba­gan city, given just a week to va­cate. That was dur­ing the gov­ern­ment’s first stab at hav­ing the an­cient site de­clared a World Her­itage Zone.

With the re­gional au­thor­i­ties once again eye­ing the UNESCO list­ing, and set­ting an ambitious tar­get for an Oc­to­ber 2017 ap­pli­ca­tion, res­i­dents are ner­vous.

The Depart­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy, Na­tional Mu­seum and Li­brary and the As­so­ci­a­tion of Myan­mar Ar­chi­tects have been work­ing on a master plan for Ba­gan since last year, in­clud­ing zon­ing for the height and ex­te­rior of build­ings and land-use reg­u­la­tions.

Th­ese reg­u­la­tions have al­ready made it im­pos­si­ble for res­i­dents to build on their own plots with­out prior ap­proval from the Depart­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy. Now they are wor­ried any fur­ther tight­en­ing of the re­stric­tions could make it im­pos­si­ble for them to sell their homes. Many still mourn the an­ces­tral lands they say they were forced to va­cate a gen­er­a­tion ago.

“We’d lived in Old Ba­gan since our grand­par­ents’ day,” said U Ye Myint, 70, a tourist guide.

He said about 4000 peo­ple had been given a week’s no­tice to move, in the height of sum­mer, to a site ex­posed to the heat and dust, with­out roads, wa­ter or elec­tric­ity dur­ing the 1990 evic­tion. “Peo­ple didn’t even know where they were sup­posed to go, be­cause the au­thor­i­ties had failed to mark out the land prop­erly,” he said.

“They threat­ened to de­stroy our homes with bull­doz­ers if we didn’t move to where they wanted us to go. I still hoped one day we would be able to go back to our na­tive home, so I only built a small house for my fam­ily. I meant to build a big­ger one when we were al­lowed to go back,” he said, adding, “Even now we all would like to re­turn home if we had the chance.”

Ba­gan res­i­dent Daw Maw Maw Aung, 49, said the po­lice had forced home­own­ers to sign a pa­per agree­ing to leave the an­cient pagoda zone.

U Ko Ko Maung, 58, who also now lives in New Ba­gan, said the gov­ern­ment had forced res­i­dents to im­me­di­ately move their be­long­ings to the new site des­ig­nated for them.

“The new lo­ca­tion was just a snake-in­fested field with no wa­ter or elec­tric­ity. No­body helped us move. The au­thor­i­ties drove us out like an­i­mals,” he said, adding that some el­derly res­i­dents had died of heart at­tacks af­ter the move. The prop­erty also flooded when the first rains came, he said.

Ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture such as a high­way bus sta­tion, hospi­tal and city hall were still miss­ing.

Older res­i­dents still missed the tra­di­tional re­li­gious fes­ti­vals they used to cel­e­brate in their for­mer homes, he said. “It’s just not the same hold­ing the fes­ti­vals in New Ba­gan. Peo­ple cel­e­brate with tears in their eyes,” he said.

How­ever, com­mer­cial in­ter­ests seem to have pros­pered, said U Ye Myint. He said the old Ba­gan high school had been de­mol­ished be­cause it was sup­pos­edly on the site of the an­cient Tharabar Gate. How­ever, a ho­tel had now been built on the site.

“The Aye Yar Ho­tel used to be small, but has now ex­tended as far as the bank of the Aye­yarwady River and into the grounds of the Taung Be vil­lage ceme­tery,” he said.

“Who per­mit­ted this, and why? We left our homes to make way for a world her­itage site, only to be told that where we live now is still within the site zone and we may have to move again,” said U Ko Ko Maung.

More than 42 ho­tels and guest­houses are in limbo af­ter be­ing banned by the gov­ern­ment from tak­ing guests, even though they were granted li­cences in 2013, on the grounds that they are lo­cated within the pagoda zone.

U Aung Aung Kyaw, di­rec­tor of the Ba­gan ar­chae­ol­ogy depart­ment, said the res­i­dents will only be moved if they cur­rently re­side within the an­cient ar­chao­log­i­cal zone, which in­cor­po­rates Nyaung-U, New Ba­gan, Myin Ka­par vil­lage and Min Nan Thu.

“As for ho­tels in an­cient zone that man­age­ment com­mit­tee is still dis­cus­sion how to de­cide for that,” he said.

Res­i­dent U Ko Ko Maung ac­cused the ar­chae­ol­ogy of­fi­cials of un­der ap­pre­ci­at­ing the lo­cal’s con­tri­bu­tion to con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. “The only rea­son th­ese an­cient pago­das and re­li­gious build­ings still rep­re­sent our na­tional her­itage is be­cause our grand­par­ents con­served them. The ar­chae­ol­ogy depart­ment can’t pre­serve any build­ings with­out the help of lo­cal peo­ple,” he said.

“If we had to leave Old Ba­gan, at least we would have had the sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing it pre­served. But our place has been taken by the of­fices of the ar­chae­ol­ogy depart­ment and the Lac­quer Col­lege,” said Daw Maw Maw Aung.

Lac­quer­ware is the eco­nomic life­line of Ba­gan. The 1990 re­lo­ca­tion se­ri­ously dam­aged the busi­ness, said U Ye Myint.

U Tharthana Pala, a monk for­merly known as Cap­tain Than Win who, as Nyaung-U town­ship ad­min­is­tra­tor from 1988 to 1991, was re­spon­si­ble for or­der­ing the mass re­lo­ca­tion un­der the mil­i­tary regime, said ef­forts to move the res­i­dents had be­gun dur­ing the so­cial­ist era but were never fol­lowed through.

“Or­di­nary peo­ple were never sup­posed to live in Old Ba­gan. It was the home of kings and princes,” he said.

He added that the au­thor­i­ties at the time feared that in­di­vid­ual gold­min­ing could un­der­mine the foun­da­tions of the re­li­gious build­ings, and that pri­vate homes were ob­scur­ing the views of pago­das.

“Only the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment was ca­pa­ble of re­lo­cat­ing the city. I don’t know how the ho­tels came to be in Old Ba­gan be­cause they weren’t there in my day,” he said. “The gov­ern­ment did not have enough money to pro­vide the nec­es­sary fa­cil­i­ties. It was their duty to re­lo­cate the res­i­dents. Peo­ple now say it was a vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights. But there were no hu­man rights at the time.”

Photo: Staff

Al­ready once evicted in 1990, Ba­gan res­i­dents fear the lat­est her­itage sta­tus bid may prompt another forced re­lo­ca­tion.

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