Squatters Evicted Ahead of Norwegian King’s Arrival in Mandalay

By Hnin Yadanar Zaw 3 December 2014

RANGOON — As Norwegian King Harald V and his wife enjoy a scenic boat voyage upstream from Bagan, scores of people have been evicted from the bank of the Irrawaddy River to avoid blighting the landscape upon his arrival in Mandalay.

Local authorities ordered squatters living and working on the riverbank near Gaw Wein Jetty to destroy their homes and vacate the area ahead of the royal couple’s expected arrival tomorrow.

“Most of them are workers from the harbor,” said distinguished author and Mandalay resident Nyi Pu Lay. “They work at the jetty and live around it with their families. The authorities didn’t give them enough time to move. Now most of them do not have anywhere to go and are sleeping on the sand around the jetty.”

Some of the squatters are also itinerant workers who have come from as far afield as the Irrawaddy delta and Shan State and who do not have enough money to return home, according to Nyi Pu Lay.

Thet Naing Tun, the secretary of the Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC), confirmed that eviction notices were served at the end of November.

The MCDC were unable to confirm the number of huts demolished or people evicted from the area around the jetty. Authorities reportedly used bulldozers to tear down remaining huts and decorated the landscape with potted flowers to mark the Norwegian monarch’s arrival.

“We just evicted the squatter huts,” said MCDC spokesperson Aung Soe. “We cannot tell the exact details of the visiting trip for security reasons.”

The evictions have been condemned by Hla Aung, president of the Chan Mya Thukha social welfare organization.

“The government is still fond of covering up their actions,” he said. “They are too ashamed to let foreign countries see the poverty of the people of Myanmar. I condemn their action of removing people and destroying their huts because of Norway’s royal visit.”

King Harald and Queen Sonja arrived in Naypyidaw on Sunday for a five-day state visit to Burma, the first by a Norwegian monarch—at the invitation of President Thein Sein, who traveled to Norway in February as part of a European tour.

Norway has canceled Burmese debt to the tune of US$534 million and is prioritizing Burma in its international aid program, which includes aid to internally displaced persons camps within Burma through the Norwegian Red Cross and Norwegian People’s Aid.

A Norwegian embassy was opened in Rangoon in October last year and plans are underway to establish a Burmese embassy in Oslo in early 2015, state-run dailies reported on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Convocation Hall of Rangoon University on Tuesday, the King Harald discussed the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution and reflected on the virtues of constitutional amendment—a controversial topic at a time when debate continues to rage over provisions in the Burmese Constitution which reserve a quarter of all parliamentary seats for the military and bar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

“Our Constitution protects the rights of the people and ensures democracy,” he told the audience. “It reminds us that being a member of society entails rights and duties both. Our Constitution states that if anything laid down by law proves not to be in the best interest of the people, it can, and should, be changed.”

Additional reporting by Sa Nay Lin.