Bagan plans heritage clean up

BAGAN, 11 May 2015: Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture plans to take action against hotels built illegally within Bagan’s ancient city and temple complex.

It could result in some tourist hotels being demolished if the local government acts, but officials are reluctant to cross swords with former military junta leaders, who still wield considerable influence.

Mandalay Region government officials told Myanmar Times that the culture ministry is considering legal action against some hotels very shortly.

“The law for ancient culture protection has already been adopted by the Ministry of Culture. Some hotels in Old Bagan are in the ancient heritage zone and are now under scrutiny,” the source said.

inside no 1A team of experts from the Heritage Impact Assessment, the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the Myanmar Archaeologist Association is already inspecting hotels, according to Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library deputy general director U Thein Lwin.

“We have inspected about 15 hotels and found some are encroaching on heritage areas, but we need to inspect other buildings. We will report the results to the ministry and then they will decide what action to take,” he said.

The inspections are part of a broader plan to gain UNESCO approval to place Bagan on its World Heritage List, which officials, last year, said they hoped could be achieved by 2017.

“We are drawing up the management plan together with experts from UNESCO. If we can follow their advice then Bagan will be added to the World Heritage List,” he said.

The National Tourism Central Committee, led by, vice president, U Nyan Tun, is involved in surveying the hotels in the Bagan zone, according to U Nyan Win, chair of the Myanmar Tourism Federation.

The committee, which includes ministers and business associations, is negotiating with hotel owners to  demolish some buildings in hotel compounds that encroach on heritage sites. Parts of two hotels have already been demolished.

A more comprehensive inventory of pagodas and temples, as well as stricter enforcement of heritage laws, were identified as important steps to be taken before the site could be nominated for the UNESCO list, ministry officials said.

A 1998 law bans commercial development inside cultural heritage sites, but some hotels were built before the law was enacted. Others were allowed, later, but that was in a direct contravention of the law. Some of the hotel owners had links to the military regime and believed they were immune to prosecution.

Given the sensitivity of those business ties, officials are still reluctant to name which hotels might be slated for demolition, the report said.

Officials are preparing to take legal action against nine more buildings in Bagan and the nearby town of Nyaung Oo, according to Bagan branch of the department deputy director U Nyein Lwin.

Last month the Ministry of Culture released the text of two bills – the Protection and Preservation of Ancient Buildings Law, and the Protection and Preservation of Ancient Antiquities Law. They are intended to beef up the protection of Myanmar’s cultural heritage and include tougher punishments, including jail terms of three to seven years for anyone found to have damaged, removed or destroyed heritage buildings.