Military Promises Shwedagon Highrises ‘Will be Stopped’: Ma Ba Tha

By Lawi Weng 22 June 2015

RANGOON — The Association for the Protection of Race and Religion claimed on the weekend that senior military figures have promised to halt or substantially alter five high-rise developments near Shwedagon Pagoda.

At a Saturday conference held for members and supporters of the Buddhist nationalist group, also known as Ma Ba Tha, an association spokesman said that two generals met with the association to promise that the projects would not continue in their current form.

“Some Burma Army members phoned us, telling us they wanted to discuss the projects,” said Maung Maung, a Ma Ba Tha committee member. “They asked about our campaign collecting signatures for a petition against the project. “They told us that they did not intend for there to be a misunderstanding between the army and the public and they promised us they would stop all the projects.”

Rangoon Regional Commander Maj-Gen Tun Tun Naung and Rangoon Division Border Affairs Minister Col. Tin Win were present on behalf of the military at the meeting, according to Maung Maung. He added that the men promised a statement would be issued no more than 15 days from the date of the meeting to announce the halt of the five developments in their current form, in return for Ma Ba Tha ceasing their campaign against the projects.

“They will issue a statement within 15 days to say that all the projects will be stopped,” he said. “We will wait and see what will happen…If they issue the statement, this will be a historical victory of our people showing unity to protect Shwedagon Pagoda.”

The Dagon Township developments, built on 72 acres of land leased from the military’s Quartermaster General’s Office in 2013, have been mired in controversy since the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) issued a suspension notice for all five projects in late January. In the time since, a growing number of urban planners, elected officials and professional associations have voiced their concerns about the high-rises, amid claims that the developments would block sight lines to Shwedagon and risk damaging the foundations of the iconic pagoda.

Ma Ba Tha entered the fray last week, organizing a petition drive and promising nationwide protests if the government refused to halt the projects. Echoing the increasingly strident opposition to the developments, prominent Ma Ba Tha figure U Wirathu said that protests remained on the table if the military failed to bring a halt to the projects.

“Our Ma Ba Tha duty is to protect our land,” he said. “Shwedagon is the heart of our Myanmar people. Without Shwedagon, there will be no more Myanmar.”
U Pamaukkha, a senior Ma Ba Tha committee member, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the generals would seek to have a notice formally halting the projects issued by the office of President Thein Sein, and said the meeting also raised the prospect of lowering the height of the projects rather than canceling them outright.

The Irrawaddy was unable to independently confirm details of the meeting with military sources, who have yet to establish a press liaison service promised during discussions with the Interim Myanmar Press Council last year.

Whether the reported meeting signals the end of the projects outright or a commitment to revise the development to reduce heights and excavation depths is similarly unclear.

The Marga Landmark consortium, which has a 70 percent stake in the flagship 22-acre Dagon City 1 development in partnership with local firm Thu Kha Yadanar, told The Irrawaddy it is still waiting for an MIC decision based on a reevaluation of the project’s master plan.

“We are making all the necessary preparations, adhering to the existing laws and advice of engineers, geologists and architects,” said a Marga Landmark spokesman in a statement. “We take all concerns of the public into due consideration. We understand the concerned government bodies have not made a final decision and that the concerned authorities will officially inform us upon making the final decision.”

The reported meeting between the two generals and three senior Ma Ba Tha monks occurred during the association’s two-year anniversary conference over the weekend. Known for its protests against the international community on issues concerning the Rohingya population of Arakan State, and its sponsorship of legislation widely understood to target the marital and reproductive rights of the country’s Muslims, Ma Ba Tha claimed the conference was attended by 3,000 monks and 2,500 supporters.