Burma’s Culture Ministry Vows to Limit Building in Pyu Cities

By San Yamin Aung 24 July 2014

RANGOON— Burma’s Ministry of Culture says it will restrict construction in heritage zones to preserve the three ancient cities recently listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites and other culturally important cites in the country.

On June 22, the Unesco World Heritage Committee conferred Burma’s first World Heritage listings on the ancient Pyu cities of Sri Ksetra, Halin and Beikthano, which are located in Burma’s central Dry Zone and feature the walled remains of sites built by the now-extinct Pyu people from the first to ninth centuries AD.

“Within world heritage sites, the setting up of big columns is not allowed. So, new buildings and land use in the ancient Pyu cities, and in other cultural heritage regions like Bagan that are intended to go on the World Heritage list, must be restricted,” Deputy Minister of Culture Than Swe told The Irrawaddy.

He said that if new construction took place in the ancient Pyu cites, they could be taken off the Unesco list.

“There are hotels, motels, guest houses, restaurants and industrial buildings, and land trading and settling and fencing going on in the restricted zones of three ancient Pyu cities and other cultural heritage regions, including Bagan and Inwa,” the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, which is part of the Ministry of Culture, said in a notice Tuesday.

The department said that as well as threatening the Burmese sites’ place on the World Heritage list, such actions are against the law, do damage to cultural heritage and ruin landscapes.

“Although it is not a problem if the ongoing constructions have permission, we will take action if they don’t have permission,” Than Swe said.

Under the Protection and Preservation of Cultural Heritage Regions Law (1998), builders must apply to the Department of Archaeology before constructing or extending a building, renovating or extending the boundary of its enclosure within an ancient monumental zone (MZ), an ancient site zone (AZ) or a protected and preserved zone (PZ). There are 46 cultural heritage regions around the country.

The department must scrutinize applications and submit them to the Ministry of Culture to decide whether to grant building permission or not, the law says.

The department warned in its notice that, “we will take action against those who don’t follow the law in accordance with the Protection and Preservation of Cultural Heritage Regions Law (1998) and release notification publicly with their names.”

Those who violate the law can be punished with a fine of up to 50,000 kyat, about US$50, up to five years in jail, or both, according to the law.

Moe Moe Lwin, director of the Yangon Heritage Trust, a group campaigning for the preservation of heritage, said the ground beneath Burma’s ancient cities likely held many secrets that archaeologists have yet to unearth.

“There are also many things that remain to be found out about Pyu culture in the ancient cities of Pyu. These must be protected so they don’t disappear,” she said, adding that effective enforcement of the law and public education and participation were needed.