Arson Attack Hits Shan State Market Slated for Redevelopment

By Zarni Mann 2 December 2015

MANDALAY — Shop owners at the old market of Mong Ko, a town near the Sino-Burmese border town of Muse in northern Shan State, have asked the Union Government for protection after their shops were burned down in an apparent effort to intimidate merchants.

Shortly after midnight on Monday, a small bomb was detonated near a photo studio and printing house owned by Mong Ko local Daw Than. Two hours later, her shop was burned to the ground by two unidentified men.

Daw Than had been representing 20 local shop owners in negotiations with a company with close ties to militias operating in the village and local authorities, which is attempting to upgrade the market. Locals say the company is demanding that merchants pay around 900 million kyats (US$696,000) for shops in the refurbished market.

The shop owners had written to the company, municipal authorities, local administration offices and the Shan State government urging for either the price of new shops to be lowered to a level merchants could afford, or compensation to be offered to merchants displaced from the market. Instead, at the end of November, the company issued a directive telling merchants to relocate within 10 days.

Daw Than lost a printing press and all her merchandise and equipment in Monday’s blaze.

“Nothing remains from my shop,” she said. “I don’t know exactly who is responsible but the company was very angry with us when we requested a price reduction and compensation.”

The old market of Mong Koe has more than fifty shops with an open space for street vendors. Locals said the company offered a meager amount of compensation to merchants and did not include any substitute shops for current shop owners in its redevelopment plan.

“Normally old owners have the rights to claim back the shop at a reasonable price after an upgrade,” said Nan Htwe Kham, another shop owner in the old market. “The price they set is too expensive for local Shan owners to afford. We believe the new market is only for Chinese investors, who can easily afford that amount of money.”

“We are just asking for our rights and we’ve been attacked. We informed the local police and administration office. But we want more protection from the central government to ensure the rule of law in our region,” she added.

No casualties were reported in either incident on Monday. The Mong Ko police station said they were investigating the attack.