Police in Burma are implementing precautionary security measures and boosting the presence of law enforcement officers to ensure the safety of revelers participating in the country’s Buddhist New Year festivities, also known as Thingyan, which begins next week.
A 5,000-strong security force will hit the streets and stand guard at more than 150 pavilions in Rangoon during the “water festival,” which is celebrated from April 12 to 16.
Win Kyi, a lieutenant colonel from Rangoon’s Western District police, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that “4,000 police officers and a thousand members from the local Red Cross, fire stations and town elders, will be standing by for security.”
Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city, each year sees a raucous celebration that brings hundreds of thousands of revelers out in the days leading up to the Buddhist New Year, which is marked on April 17 this year. All manner of splashing, from squirt guns and buckets to firehouses and water balloons, carries on for the better part of a week, but the celebration also has a dark side, with incidents of violence, traffic accidents and fatalities spiking over the period.
In an attempt to reduce the negative aspects of Thingyan, several security monitoring posts will be open to supervise the festivities in Rangoon, with headquarters at the Rangoon divisional government office, according to police in the commercial capital.
Security forces will be deployed at the 154 registered Thingyan pavilions, better known as pandals, to take action against any violence or threats to safety.
Police have required pandal sponsors to install closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) at each stage, while explosives inspection teams will conduct sweeps of the pandals twice a day. In 2010, 10 people were killed and nearly 180 injured in a series of bomb blasts at a pandal in Rangoon.
Private security personnel have also been hired by some pandal sponsors, Win Kyi added.
This year’s festivities are expected to see more foreign faces amid the crowds, according to a tourism industry source.
Tin Htun Aung, the joint secretary of the Myanmar Tourism Association, told The Irrawaddy that services were being provided to visitors in Burma over the holiday.
“We are arranging their travels to Rangoon and Mandalay, as well as [provisions] for their security,” he said.
The MTA official said visitor numbers were up this month ahead of the water festival, which coincides with the tail end of Burma’s tourism “high season.” A special pandal sponsored by the MTA will be available for tourists to join in Mandalay.
Win Kyi said security arrangements for tourists would be in place.
“We have distributed the phone number for an emergency contact if something happens. Also, our men will have communication devices on the ground,” the lieutenant colonel added.
“In case of violence, crimes or bomb threats, special courthouses will be available for perpetrators in each township, so we can take [judicial] action immediately.”
Win Kyi said authorities have issued a list of 51 Thingyan “dos and don’ts” to be followed by revelers, including a requirement that participants cease and desist with the water play at 6 pm each day.
“If people break those rules, electricity and water distribution to them [pandals] will be cut.”
Nang Sai Nom contributed to this report.