New Regulations, But No Evictions for Pyu Villagers: Ministry

By Lawi Weng 25 June 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Culture says it will issue new regulations for local people living in and around the ruins of three ancient cities recently listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites, but will not force any of them to relocate.

Sandar Khin, a deputy minister from the Ministry of Culture, spoke at a press conference on Monday at Rangoon International Airport, with more than 100 civil servants welcoming her return from a meeting in Doha, Qatar, where Unesco conferred Burma’s first World Heritage listing on the ancient Pyu cities of Sri Ksetra, Halin and Beikthano.

“New regulations are necessary for cases of growing vegetables, building houses or setting up new buildings at the heritage site,” Sandar Khin told reporters. “Our ministry will issue these.”

“We have provided a lot of education to the local people who are living on the site about not damaging the heritage. For the new regulations, we will not force them off the site. But, we will have new regulations for those who want to build new houses or buildings. We have to ensure that their building does not damage the protected sites,” she said.

During a visit by The Irrawaddy in September 2013, as the Burmese government prepared for a site visit from a Unesco delegation, some locals expressed concern that a World Heritage listing might see them forced from their homes or lands.

The Sri Ksetra site in Pegu Division consists of 14 present-day villages, populated by more than 10,000 people.

At Sri Ksetra, the ruins of what was once Southeast Asia’s largest walled city cover an area of about 18 square miles, with the remains of a royal palace at the center. Halin in Sagaing Division and Beikthano in Magwe Division likewise include the ruins—enclosed by the remains of brick fortifications and featuring elaborate irrigation systems—of ancient Pyu city-states.

“It is very important to get recognition from the international World Heritage body because we can maintain our heritage that remains if we have the money for it. Our people can learn of former architecture styles as well,” Sandar Khin said.

With the listing, which was announced by the Unesco World Heritage Committee on Sunday, the Pyu sites are eligible to receive financial assistance and expertise from the UN cultural body for preservation works. The World Heritage designation is also expected to boost tourist visitors to the sites.

The now-extinct Pyu people are believed to have been the first to bring Theravada Buddhism to Burma. The kingdom of Pyu was dominant in Burma’s central dry zone for more than 800 years from the first to ninth centuries AD.