Govt Green Lights Hotels in Bagan Archaeological Zone

By Htet Naing Zaw 15 September 2016

NAYPYIDAW — The government has decided to green light 25 hotels in Bagan’s Archaeological Zone that were built without the permission of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, said minister Thura U Aung Ko.

Existing laws prohibit commercial buildings in the archaeological zone without ministry approval.

The minister announced the approval to reporters after a parliamentary session on Wednesday. Because of weak cooperation between ministries during the power transfer from the previous government to the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government—which won in a landslide 2015 election—42 hotels were granted construction permits in Bagan’s Archaeological zone, of which 25 are 70-90 percent complete, while 17 have not yet begun construction.

“We’ve allowed 25 hotels that have already been built. UNESCO thinks hotels will break even after 10 years but businessmen demand it will take 15. Our ministry reached an agreement stating that these hotels will have to move to a hotel zone, which is seven kilometers away from the archaeological zone, after 15 years of operation,” Thura U Aung Ko told the media.

He said the government would sign an agreement with hoteliers to ensure that they move to the hotel zone after 15 years in operation. The ministry will not allow the 17 hotels that have not yet been started, he added.

“UNESCO demands that the hotels be demolished after 15 years, citing examples of world heritage sites like Borobudur Temple in Indonesia and Angkor Wat in Cambodia,” Thura U Aung Ko told The Irrawaddy.

According to UNESCO, there must not be any residential buildings or guesthouses within a five to seven kilometer radius of heritage buildings. The government has explained to UNESCO that it is not possible to demolish Nyaung U and more than 20 other villages in the area.

“We urged them [UNESCO Myanmar] to try to inscribe the archaeological zone as a mixed ancient zone on the world heritage site list, on the condition that we won’t allow any modern buildings to be built in Nyaung U or surrounding areas. We reached an agreement, in principle. If it happens, it will be inscribed as a new type of UNESCO heritage site,” said Thura U Aung Ko.

In Bagan, hotels were not permitted under the Burma Socialist Program Party, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) or the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Hotels emerged in the area under former President U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government and have been officially recognized by the new government, said U Chin Po, a member of Bagan Lovers’ Group, a local civil society organization engaged in preserving the archaeological zone.

“It is unacceptable to allow hotels in the ancient heritage site. Does this mean the new government is permitting things that were banned for successive periods?” he asked.

According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, it is up to hoteliers whether to demolish the 25 approved hotels after 15 years or allow the ministry to use them as public spaces, recreations or schools.

On August 24, a powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Bagan, damaging over 400 religious structures—about 40 of which were significant in terms of historical, cultural and architectural aspects.

“The stupas are easy to repair, and it will not cost a lot. But for the ancient temples, we will seek the assistance of UNESCO to repair them,” Thura U Aung Ko told the media.