RANGOON — Burma’s government and Arakan State authorities have begun taking measures to better preserve the remains of the old Arakanese capital of Mrauk-U in order to prepare the site for nomination for the Unesco World Heritage List, a senior official said on Tuesday.
Kyaw Oo Lwin, director general of the Ministry of Culture’s Archeology Department, told The Irrawaddy that his department had been working with state authorities since late last year to carry out digital mapping and improve preservation of Buddhist temples and palace grounds. He said the steps were part of a government plan to nominate the site with the help of Unesco officials and other foreign experts.
“To become Unesco World Heritage listed, we need to take at least four and a half years [to prepare] before we can apply for inclusion on the list. This is the minimum period. That’s why we’re now starting to collect data and survey information on the ground,” he said.
From the 15th century to the late 1800s, Mrauk-U was the seat of Arakanese kings, who at the height of their power controlled an area covering large parts of eastern Bengal, modern-day Arakan State and the western part of Lower Burma. Much of the city’s remains are well-preserved and some 380 historic temples are scattered between the lush hills of northern Arakan.
Kyaw Oo Lwin said it was important for the Unesco nomination process to describe and preserve how local communities have been living among and with the monuments in Mrauk-U. “We have to… collect the numbers of temples, old sites. And not only these things but we also will have to survey the living [culture] of residents in this area too,” he said.
Kyaw Oo Lwin said the Arakan State government had committed about US$670,000 to the nomination process this year and another $500,000 next year, adding that the central government could offer little in the way of funding support for the process.
If successfully listed, Mrauk-U would become the third World Heritage site in Burma. The listing would mobilize international funding and support for protection, management and research at the site. It would also boost the country’s expanding tourism industry, a sector that the government has identified as a key driver of future economic growth.
In June last year, Unesco accepted the first inscription of a Burmese heritage site, the Pyu Ancient Cities in Prome, on the World Heritage List. In October, Unesco organized a first workshop to prepare World Heritage nomination for the ancient temple complex of Bagan in central Burma, a process that will be completed in the coming years.
Mrauk-U is located on the Kaladan River in northern Arakan State, some 60 kilometer inland from the state capital Sittwe. The site used to draw tens of thousands of tourists annually, until inter-communal violence between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims erupted in mid-2012, displacing tens of thousands of people, mostly Muslims, in Sittwe and surrounding townships, including Mrauk-U Township.
Following the violence, authorities closed down the old city for foreign tourist and although the ban was lifted after several months the area has seen only a trickle of tourist visitors since.