Mrauk-U UNESCO Coordination Meeting Postponed After Recent Protest

By Zue Zue 22 January 2018

YANGON — A work coordination meeting on the nomination of Mrauk-U to the UNESCO World Heritage List scheduled to be held from Jan. 26–27 was postponed following last week’s protest in the old Arakanese capital.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Mrauk-U residents took to the streets to protest the government’s ban on celebrating the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Rakhine Dynasty. The government said it had banned the annual event because the venue was a former palace that had been listed as a national heritage site.

Seven residents were killed and 12 others were injured during the police crackdown on protestors.

“We sent invitations to the meeting. But, it is now difficult to come to the town because of security concerns. The meeting will likely be held in Yangon instead, but that has not yet been officially confirmed,” said Daw Khin Than, chairwoman of the Mrauk-U cultural heritage conservation group.

The Union culture minister, the Chinese and Italian ambassadors to Myanmar, Arakanese historians, and members of UNESCO were set to attend the meeting to discuss the progress of preparations and future plans for nomination.

The draft nomination to include Mrauk-U as a World Heritage Site is set to be submitted in September with the final submission to be delivered by January 2019, according to Daw Khin Than.

The archaeology department under the culture ministry has formed 14 sub-committees to help prepare the nomination.

“I personally feel that the image of Mrauk-U is severely damaged [by the incident]. We have been trying to enhance its image to get UNESCO’s recognition. While we are trying every means to make the world know Mrauk-U and there is certain progress toward this end, this incident has exerted serious impact,” she said.

She believes that the inscription of Mrauk-U on the UNESCO World Heritage List will help solve the sectarian divide in Rakhine State to a certain extent.

UNESCO officials started their survey of the old Arakanese capital in February last year.

Mrauk-U is located on the Kaladan River in northern Rakhine State, some 60 kilometers inland from the state capital Sittwe.

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 Rakhine State and the western part of Lower Myanmar.

Much of the city’s remains are well preserved and some 380 historic temples are scattered between the lush hills of northern Rakhine. Internal violence between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims that erupted in mid-2012 has driven down tourist numbers to the area.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.