The land that is known as Arakan by the foreigners is called Rakhaing-pray by its own people, Rakhaing-thar (Arakanese) who were titled this name in honour of preservation on their national heritage and ethics or morality.

ALP Spokesman: Party Members Threatened With Arrest

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Thursday, April 28, 2016 0 comments

By MOE MYINT / THE IRRAWADDY| Thursday, April 28, 2016

  Soldiers from the Arakan Liberation Army are pictured in Arakan State. (Photo: ALP Community / Facebook)

RANGOON — Central executive committee members of the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), the political wing of the Arakan Liberation Army, were threatened with arrest by Col. Htein Lin, the security and border affairs minister of Arakan State, ALP spokesman Khine Myo Tun said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Htein Lin summoned ALP representatives for questioning about a statement from the party on April 24. The statement lodged several allegations against the Burma Army, including accusations of the military having committing war crimes, breaking the Geneva Convention and other aspects of international law, removing locals from their land, forced labor and the capturing and sometimes killing of villagers in conflict zones.

It claims members of the ALP could act as witnesses to the alleged abuses.

Khine Myo Tun told The Irrawaddy that Htein Lin and Arakan State’s police chief, Sein Lwin, asked the ALP representatives to provide evidence for their statement because the Burma Army had received criticism from foreign NGOs and governments.

“They told us that if we can’t provide concrete evidence, they’ll arrest us. We replied that we can substantiate this; that’s why we released the statement in the first place. I asked them what they would do if I gave them video footage. Would they take action, without hesitation, to charge the soldiers who’ve committed these crimes? But they said this will take time,” Khine Myo Tun said.

The footage in question is supposedly two files showing murders and more than 20 villagers from various villages being exploited for labor. According to Khine Myo Tun, Htein Lin warned ALP representatives that Friday was their last chance to hand over the footage.

However, a representative of the group said, “We won’t deliver [the clips] silently. We will hold a press conference and distribute them to everyone. And we will invite Htein Lin, the chief minister and government officials to take the footage from the press conference,” though the date for such a conference has yet to be determined.

The Irrawaddy was unable to reach Htein Lin or Nyi Pu, the National League for Democracy (NLD) chief minister for Arakan State, on Thursday for comment, though Htein Lin’s assistant did confirm that the colonel had met with ALP members earlier.

By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY| Thursday, April 28, 2016

 Karen freedom fighters travel to fight alongside the Arakan Army. (Photo: Saw San Aung/Facebook)

After days of traveling from Karen State, Col. Saw San Aung and dozens of troops arrived in Arakan State last week to help the Arakan Army (AA) fight the Burma Army.

The troops are Karen freedom fighters—a Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) splinter group, and other ethnic armed forces from groups that the Colonel did not specify. He described the fighters as a federal army, formed discreetly by ethnic leaders.

Making pillows of stones and singing to his troops, Col. Saw San Aung attempted to keep morale high for the soldiers he calls “freedom fighters” during the rough trip to western Burma’s Arakan State.

“At times, we did not have food and could not sleep, but this is the life of a rebel,” he said.

The trip was not smooth, as the troops trekked through the jungle from Taungoo to Pegu Yoma to Arakan Yoma, occasionally using cars and boats, but favoring walking through the jungle in order to bring necessary weapons, he added.

“Fighting in Rakhine [Arakan] was a first step for our federal army,” he said.

According to Col. Saw San Aung, whose troops have a history of combat experience in Karen State, joining armed forces in an alliance to fight the military regime was an important and effective strategy.

Fighting recently broke out in Arakan State during the annual water festival, when it was reported that the Burma Army launched a military offensive. Many locals became displaced after the fighting and that was when the Colonel and his troops decided it was time to go and help, he said.

“We should all have equal opportunities for peace. Karen State has peace, but Arakan State does not. This should not happen. We should all have peace together, nationwide peace,” he added.

Karen and Arakan troops have joined forces in the past to attack the Burma Army in Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw Township, and have also trained together in Karen controlled areas.

“Arakan and Karen troops are comrades who dare to die fighting,” he said. “We have a long friendship in revolution against the military regime. They helped the Karen before, so we came back to help them now.”

Arakanese people were happy to see his troops arrive, and local support was important, he said.

He did not give the number of troops, fearing that his enemy would find out. But he said his troops were experienced and were eager to destroy the military regime, alongside the AA.

Col. Saw San Aung believes that the ethnic armed groups will gain equal rights under a federal system through an alliance of armed forces.

“If you want to have a federal union, it’s time to join our ethnic federal army,” he said, adding that he was happy to hear State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi say she was eager to implement a “Panglong-style” peace conference.

The Panglong Conference was held by her father, Gen. Aung San, and leaders from three of the country’s ethnic minority groups prior to Burma’s independence, and is held up as a example of cooperation between the Burman majority and ethnic minority groups.

United League of Arakan (ULA) : Released Statement

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Tuesday, April 19, 2016 0 comments

United League of Arakan (ULA)
Released Statement
20 April 2016

Persecution against ethnic minorities committed by the Burmese military government and its armed forces have continued for more than a half century until the present. The military abuse in remote ethnic areas that remain virtually unknown because of severe restrictions imposed by the Burmese Army. The persecutions have been systematic and widespread, and the forms include extra-judicial killings, torture, and other forms of violence, arbitrary arrests, and detentions.

Burmese Army has subjected civilians to executions, torture, human-shields and rape of ethnic women during the conflicts. The widespread violence, part of a vicious counterinsurgency campaign that amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity, has contributed to a looming humanitarian crisis, threatening to democracy roadmap and peace in Burma.

Since the outbreak of war in February 2015 in the Rakhine state, it has reported to have been killed, tortured and arrested by the Burmese Army. Most of these casualties are caused by grave violations of human rights that constitute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. We remain deeply concerned that brutal Burmese armed forces continue to carry out widespread atrocities on a daily basis with impunity, including targeting civilians who are accused of being supporters of the Arakan Army.

We are grave concerned dramatic rise in unchecked violence against civilians in most recent war in April 16, 2016, when the Burmese Army launched an aggressive military campaign against the Arakan Army who has been struggling for self-determination, democracy and national equality and freedom.

In chilling accounts, witnesses and victims described how the armed force forcedly displaced entire villages and destroyed, beatings with the barrel of a gun, executions, gun rape, looting and the burning of their homes. Yet, NLD led civilian government seems to be maintaining a conspiracy of silence around these crimes.

We United League of Arakan (ULA) demand the Burmese government to investigate these abuses by the military force, identify specific unites involved, and takes effective measures to bring those responsible to justice, and immediately cease all attacks, violence, persecution, and all forms of human rights violations against minorities, in particular civilians, conducted by the Burmese armed forces.

We also urge to the United Nations and international governments to condemn the Burmese Army, publicly call on government to investigate crimes in ethnic areas, demand that military officials are held accountable, and make all efforts to restore rule of law, justice until end of war crimes in Burma.

ULA Info Desk
Phone: +86 1570 6924 970
+91 977 495 3234

28 Muslim arrested for digging in Mrauk U archaeological site

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Monday, March 7, 2016 0 comments

Narinjara News:  Mrauk U, March 6

At least 28 Muslim  were arrested by the police on Saturday as they were found digging earth from the Mrauk U archaeological site.  Mrauk U archaeology department director general
U Nyein Lwin informed that those people were involved in digging activities, which are prohibited in Mrauk U, an ancient city of Arakan.

“I had issued a strict notice prohibiting any digging activity in those ancient areas but they did not follow my direction. So I went to the location along with other officials and finally ordered to arrest
the offenders,” said U Nyein Lwin.

Mrauk U is a historically important location where lot of fortress is found. Some time back, the Burma Army (LIB.378 battalion) had confiscated the area, but later the battalion shifted to another palace compound.

An Mrauk U elder informed that some individuals from the authority itself were behind the deal to sell the earth to some local businessmen. He expressed dismay that the Mrauk U  mountain had already lost half of its earth due to digging activities.

Responding to Narinjara’s queries on how to safeguard the location when some individuals from the authority itself were involved in the illegal business, the Mrauk U Nyein Liwn said, “The judiciary should step in here. The judges should examine the matter and pronounce orders accordingly. We must make everyone accountable for illegal activities irrespective of their religion or community.”

Most of the arrested Muslim settlers are still in under ages. Among them 10 are found matured in their ages and they will be prosecuted under the archaeology laws. However, the underage youths will be
freed with necessary warnings, said U Myint  Thaung,  the in-charge officer at Mrauk U police station.

“Most of the arrested Muslims hail from Paung Dock village. They were involved with the business of earth-selling for some time in those localities,” he added.

The local residents allege that many ancient buildings of Mrauk U were facing tough time as the authority was not active in preservation initiatives.  They however appreciated the new Mrauk U archaeology department director general for his prompt action to arrest the culprits this time.


Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Saturday, March 5, 2016 0 comments

Budget allocations for restoration work have risen dramatically at the nation’s second most important archeological after Bagan, but there’s little to show for it.


One of the richest legacies of the Arakan Kingdom that flourished in western Myanmar from 1429 to 1785 is the site of hundreds of temples and pagodas built in and around its capital at Mrauk U, a wealthy trading hub near the Kaladan River.

Thousands of temples were built throughout the kingdom, that ruled over present day Rakhine State and part of Bangladesh, but an inventory by the Department of Archeology and National Museums says there are only about 300 in and around Mrauk U, Myanmar’s second most famous archeological site after Bagan. It is believed there are many more pagodas and temples in the Mrauk U area yet to be excavated.

Since a restoration project began in 2011, the Rakhine and Union governments have allocated large sums to catalogue and restore ancient buildings in Mrauk U. Five years later there is no significant evidence of progress.

Instead, restoration work on two of the ancient capital’s most famous temples, the Shittaung Paya (Eight-thousand Buddha image temple) and the Kothaung Paya (Nine-thousand Buddha image temple) has involved the use of concrete and modern masonry techniques, a situation replicated at many archeological sites at Mrauk U.

“They are not doing maintenance, it’s distortion,” the chair of the Mrauk U Heritage Trust, Daw Khin Than, told Frontier. “The development of Mrauk U archeological zone is, I can say, zero,” she said, criticising the use of concrete to renovate and redecorate sites of archeological significance. “It’s all 2015-style heritage, not the real Mrauk U; I’m so sad.”

The heritage trust was established last year by former archeologists and academics as a non-profit organisation to campaign for restoration techniques that respect a building’s architectural and archeological integrity.

“The Department of Archeology is not watching over and checking what they have done,” said Daw Khin Than. “If they continue like this, it will be fully distorted with new styles and we won’t see our ancient craftsmanship anymore,” she said. “It’s as if the Department of Archaeology and National Museums has the legal right to destroy Mrauk U.”

Development and its consequences

An urban plan for Mrauk U provides for the town’s residential areas and main government buildings to be outside the heritage zone.

The hotel zone is close to one of the town’s most popular attractions, the remains of the former royal palace. More hotels are being built in the town to cater for an increasing number of tourists. The Rakhine State government has continued to issue permits for hotels, despite passing a law last year that ostensibly protects archeological sites in Mrauk U by limiting the number of new buildings and despite a directive from the department ordering an end to new building projects.

“The regional government issues lots of permits to business owners to build hotels,” said U Aung Soe, the secretary of the heritage trust. The department’s office in Mrauk U was unable to do anything about it “and the township authorities are involved,” he said.

A lack of transparency

The maintenance and development of the Mrauk U archeological zone is the responsibility of the Department of Archeology and National Museums, under the Ministry of Culture. A departmental office in the state capital, Sittwe, had regulatory control over the zone, including issuing permits for conservation and other work. Three months ago, responsibility for the zone was transferred to a departmental office in Mrauk U, where a position was created for a new director, U Nyein Lwin.

“Responsibility for Mrauk U is no longer our concern,” U Kyi Khin, the deputy director of the department’s Sittwe office, told Frontier.

All departmental allocations for Mrauk U for the last five years were controlled by the Sittwe office, including projects yet to be completed.

The maintenance budget is allocated by the state government. Figures from the Rakhine State Auditor-General’s Office show the allocation for Mrauk U in 2011-2012 was K84 million (about US$67,800 at current exchange rates).

The state government’s allocation increased nearly eight-fold the following year to K650 million but was reduced to K550 million in 2013-2014.

The allocation for Mrauk U skyrocketed to K6,927 million in 2014-2015, when the Union government allocated K532 to the archeological zone.

Chief Minister U Maung Maung Ohn allocated another K3,000 million to build a national museum in Mrauk U that fiscal year but the department used the funds to redecorate the township’s architecturally-significant court and administrative office.

The state government’s allocation to Mrauk U for 2015-2016 was K6,390 million.

Sources in Mrauk U said hotels and other buildings were erected during the term of Chief Minister U Mya Aung, who was replaced by U Maung Maung Ohn in 2015.

Over five years, the total budget for maintenance at Mrauk U was K15,138 million.

They said there was a lack of transparency in tenders granted by the department’s Sittwe office to Rakhine-based companies for maintenance projects at Mrauk U.

“Those construction companies don’t understand the value of archeological heritage and ancient craftsmanship,” said Daw Khin Than, who said the department also suffered from a shortage of experts. “The department gave contracts to construction companies that know nothing about heritage,” she said, referring to the Sittwe office.

The law requires that projects worth more than K50 million must be open to public tender. There is no evidence that projects at Mrauk U since 2014 that cost more than K100 million were tendered publicly. Since 2014, 12 construction companies have been awarded state government tenders for projects at Mrauk U.

Although U Kyi Khin said the department’s Sittwe office had no responsibility for maintenance work at Mrauk U, the Rakhine Auditor-General, U Tun Aung Zan, said the department had received allocations under the regional budget.

The department is believed to have sub-contracted some construction companies.

“Some cases are very hard to say; some budgets are given to construction companies, and some went to the department,” U Tun Aung Zan said.

Who is responsible?

Although the Rakhine Auditor-General’s Office is responsible for monitoring allocations for conservation and development work at Mrauk U, U Tun Aung Zan told Frontier it had not been provided with complete documentation on how the money was spent.

“We can check the contracts but all the permits and allocation decisions are made at ministerial level,” he said.

Another challenge is frequent changes in senior officials at the Auditor-General’s Office, which disrupts audits of government ministries.

Contracts at the Office of the Auditor General show contractors are liable to be fined if projects are overdue, but no fines have been levied despite work continuing on some of them.

“This is happening because of corruption and a lack of expertise and standardisation,” said Daw Khin Than. “I hope the incoming government will take action over all the corruption at Mrauk U,” she said.

Title photo: Mratt Kyaw Thu / Frontier

The Million Dollar Mismanagement of Mrauk U

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Friday, March 4, 2016 0 comments

By MOE MYINT / THE IRRAWADDY| Wednesday, February 24, 2016 |

MRAUK U, Arakan State — Throughout outgoing President Thein Sein’s term, the Arakan State government spent 1.5 billion kyats (over US$1.2 million) to preserve the remnants of the ancient Arakanese Mrauk U kingdom, according to the state’s annual audit report.

Yet some officials connected with the project allege that it has been fraught with mismanagement. Khin Than, chairperson of Mrauk U-based Heritage Trust, claims that halls within two famous temple complexes—the Ko-thaung and Shite-thaung pagodas—were damaged by government contractors’ negligence. New shrines were built alongside originals, she added—constructed out of concrete and sandstone.

Archaeologists and scholars of Mrauk U, which boasts more than 1,500 documented temples, have advocated for its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but fear that unscrupulous renovation of the ancient locale will put such an achievement further from reach.

‘The Conservation Was Wrong’

Nyein Lwin, director of the Mrauk U Department of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Conservation, admitted that reconstruction at Mrauk U had been carried out instead of maintenance. This often involves the use of concrete and new stones, rather than brickwork more authentic to the original structures.

Contractors lack experience to properly preserve the temples and pagodas, he explained, clarifying that much of the work was carried out before he stepped into the directorial role three months ago.

“I saw a pagoda… the conservation was wrong—it was reconstructed,” Nyein Lwin said, describing a site within the Shite-thaung complex. “[It] was reconstructed with bricks, sand and stone. It is a 2015 model. It can’t be a Mrauk U model anymore. I can’t feel it [is an original].”

Some original Shite-thaung pagodas had echo chambers and an air circulation system built into the architecture, but after the preservation, both had been disabled.

Arakan State’s Statistical Department Chief Tun Aung San also admitted that local contractors had proven “unskillful” in working on the ancient Mrauk U temples.

Exponential Budget Increase

The deputy director of the Sittwe Department of Archaeology and the National Museum provided The Irrawaddy with an annual report revealing that the regional government budget for Mrauk U maintenance had increased exponentially, from 8.4 million kyats (US$6,800) in 2011 to 639 million kyats (US$515,800) at present.

Over the last five years, a total of 1.5 billion kyats (US$1.2 million) has been poured into the ancient ruins.

Nyein Lwin claims he was kept in the dark about the funds allocated by the state before his tenure. This reportedly topped 665 million kyats (US$536,800) during 2014-15, while the project was managed by the Sittwe Department of Archaeology in the Arakan State capital.

When he became the Mrauk U archaeology department’s director, Nyein Lwin said that he identified discrepancies in the project’s audit report, which led him to file a complaint with the Arakan State chief minister. He noticed that five renovations which had not yet been completed were marked as done, and the local companies responsible had prematurely collected payment for the projects.

Nyein Lwin said he requested that the contractors provide cost estimates for the undertaking and a performance guarantee—which most failed to present.

If a contractor does not complete a project satisfactorily, authorities are supposed to take action, Tun Aung San explained. Yet he declined to say whether the state government follows through on this responsibility, simply adding that they “manage” any problems that arise.

Despite allegations of poor work performance, Tun Aung San revealed that, to his knowledge, the statistical department had not yet scrutinized the 2015-16 budget for the Mrauk U project.

Open or Closed Tender?

According to the official audit list, contractors who were selected to lead the Mrauk U restoration include well-connected Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) members, a Sittwe hotel owner, and construction companies like Nilar Myint Myat, Myanmar Ariyan and Roma Mandaing.

How certain local contractors obtained key positions on the project remains ambiguous. Burmese government protocol states that if a proposal is valued at above five million kyats (US$4,000), a “tender competition” is announced; if a project is appraised at 50 million kyats (US$40,300) or more, the public is informed through state-owned newspapers to facilitate competitive bidding.

The Irrawaddy was unable to clarify whether the Arakan State government had called for an open tender for Mrauk U’s temple maintenance.

“I don’t know whether the tender was open or closed. And even at the Mrauk U branch, we don’t know how many contractors are operating here,” Nyein Lwin said, the latter claim also echoed by the Sittwe Department of Archaeology’s deputy director.

Arakan State’s audit chief told The Irrawaddy that such decisions are left up to regional authorities, and it was unclear if they adhered to a transparent bidding procedure.

“It’s difficult to say whether the majority of tender cases are open or closed. It depends on the state government’s plan,” he said.

When contacted by The Irrawaddy, Moe Hein, a director within the Arakan State government, denied that the state privately handled tenders for such projects.

‘Intentional Violation of Laws’

Further controversy has been courted by state government plans to construct a museum in a colonial era building which was once a Mrauk U palace.

Arakan State authorities have reportedly offered 300 million kyats (US$242,200) to a local businessman to complete the project during the 2016-17 financial year.

The Mrauk U Heritage Trust objects to the project on the grounds that it violates a 1998 law prohibiting both the reconstruction of ancient structures and the construction of new buildings at heritage sites.

“The state government and the Department of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Conservation are intentionally violating the existing laws. The projects are shared with their close [relations] and after that, our heritage is destroyed,” said Khin Than, chairperson of the Trust.

She lamented that some business contractors had already received official permits to construct guesthouses and hotels nearby.

Nyein Lwin speculated that some government officials might be unaware of laws banning on-site construction, but added that the responsibility to enforce the rules remained with the manager of the project.

“If Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing gave a command to fight, it is the frontline commander, and not Min Aung Hlaing [that has to do it],” said Nyein Lwin, referring to the Burma Army chief. “Whether they win or are defeated depends on the commander’s qualifications.”

“It is the same here,” he concluded, stressing the importance of lower level leaders in Mrauk U’s chain of authority. “The operation manager is key.”

Condemnation Letter

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Monday, February 29, 2016 0 comments

United League of Arakan (ULA)/Arakan Army (AA)
29 February 2016
Condemnation Letter

We solemnly condemn the groundless accusations made by the Thein Sein's government and the Burmese Army's own media and newspapers published in the 29th of February 2016 in which it is said that people who were arrested in connection with the Arakan Army (AA) were involving in the narcotic drugs trafficking.

We will never involve in producing or distributing narcotic drugs which has detrimental impact upon mankind. Nor do we encourage such activities at any rate. We believe that the accusation made by the Thein Sein’s government is only a trumped-up story and a political onslaught against the United League of Arakan (ULA)/ Arakan Army (AA) in order to lose our dignity in the international communities as the Arakan Army achieved the full support of the people.

It is just a childish and undignified manner of the so-called government arresting people in connection with the AA and forcing them to confess as the narcotic drugs distributors by torturing and using ownerless drugs. However the whole world had already learnt the fact that it is only the Burmese Army and its followers who are involving in planting, producing, trading and distributing the narcotic related drugs.

We would like to inform sincerely to all Arakaneses and those who support ULA/AA not to trust the accusations, propaganda and political dirty tricks made by the colonists Thein Sein’s government who are exploiting our natural resources. We solemnly condemn the groundless accusations made by the Thein Sein’s government which has no willingness to solve the political problems systematically. Furthermore, we also would like to inform that we are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst against the eradication plan of the Burmese Army to the Arakan army as they are accelerating their attacks on us.

Information Department
United League of Arakan(ULA)/ Arakan Army (AA)
To contact: Tel: +66 979 390 581
+86 1570 6924 970
+91 977 495 3234

At Mrauk U, Living Heritage and Crumbling Splendor in Need of Conservation

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Friday, February 26, 2016 0 comments

By THIN LEI WIN / MYANMAR NOW| Friday, February 26, 2016 |

MRAUK U, ARAKAN STATE — The archeological museum chronicling the ancient Arakan kingdom of Mrauk U, one of Burma’s most important cultural sites, is housed in an unassuming, one-story building with a worn-out sign that has letters missing.

Located on the old palace grounds, it has one main room and three side rooms where you can find intricate stone carvings, exquisite bronze Buddhas and beautiful glazed tiles. Some of the art on display dates back to the 8th century, while much stems from 15th and 16th centuries, when the Arakan Kingdom of Mrauk U, located in the north of present-day Arakan State, was at its zenith.

Low-ceilinged, badly lit, devoid of visitors and with the treasures displayed in a seemingly random manner, the state of the museum reflects the state of this ancient city—full of forgotten, magnificent ruins in urgent need of concerted conservation efforts.

I actually didn’t come to the town of Mrauk U on a recent visit to enjoy the sights, but to attend and help moderate an ethnic media conference held here. I also planned to interview Arakanese villagers affected by the December fighting between the rebels of the Arakan Army and the military. The latter plan, however, was scuttled by Burma’s notoriously vague and confusing bureaucracy

To visit the affected villages, I was told, I needed permission from the Arakan State Ministry of Information in Sittwe. But once there, I was informed I needed permission from four other offices, including the Ministry of Border Affairs and Ministry of Immigration and Population, a requirement for which there was no time. In Mrauk U, the township administrator simply suggested I travel back to Sittwe to gain the necessary authorizations.

Determined not to waste my trip, I decided to visit Mrauk U, a legendary but difficult to reach heritage site I had long wanted to visit. What I found was a small, dusty but lively town situated among the crumbling splendor of 15th and 16th century Buddhist temples.

Old-World Feel

The Buddhist zedis in Mrauk U are dark, its bricks stained with moss as a result of the region’s hot summers and heavy monsoon season. This gives the stupas a more austere, old-world feel, unlike the heavily gilded ones common in Burma. Some no longer have roofs and many have vegetation growing around the temples and Buddha statues, reinforcing the feeling that you are seeing things through a filter, or have been transported to a bygone era.

Inside, they evoke awe, with long, secluded stone passageways decorated with intricately carved figurines and thousands of Buddhas in varying shapes and sizes. There aren’t as many pagodas here as in Bagan, the ancient Buddhist complex in central Burma, where the authorities have evicted villages from the archeological zone to promote tourism and hotel construction by well-connected companies.

Here, the history is exists amid a bustling ethnic Arakanese community, creating a unique sense of a continued and living history. Mrauk U was the capital of the Arakan Kingdom, which fell in 1784 to the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty. At the height of their power, Arakanese kings controlled an area covering parts of eastern Bengal, modern-day Arakan State and western part of lower Burma.

Compared to Bagan, Mrauk U gets a tiny fraction of tourists, partly due to the difficulty of getting there. There are no direct flights and the only way to the site is a three-hour boat ride from Rakhine’s capital Sittwe on the Mrauk U River, or a lengthy car journey. The uncertainty ahead of the November 8 elections deterred many tourists this year too, locals say, while the town suffered its worst floods in 50 years six months ago, damaging local businesses and worsening the dusty, pot-holed roads.

Another deterrent—one that locals don’t like talk about—is the 2012 communal violence in Mrauk U and other northern Arakan townships, which left both Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese Buddhist communities deeply scarred and segregated, and has made international headlines ever since.

Conservation and Restoration, Not Renovation

One of the most famous and impressive sites is the Shite-thaung Temple, meaning “80,000 Images,” built in 1535, where five passageways boast 80,000 Buddha images, statues and carvings.

Despite its beauty, ill-planned renovation to the temple several years ago by local authorities provides a warning of what could occur if construction methods are applied that damage the historic structures. At Shite-thaung stupa, the top was rebuilt using concrete, at odds with the rest of the building material. Not only does it look new and out of place, locals say it is not going to age the same way.

Therein lies the dilemma facing Mrauk U. It sorely needs support and funding to maintain its rich cultural heritage, which is deteriorating rapidly. But if it is to retain its heritage, it is crucially important that ancient structures are conserved and restored, not renovated, as overzealous officials did to many ancient temples in Bagan until they were barely distinguishable from new ones.

In 2014, UNESCO officials began discussions with Burma on Bagan’s listing as a World Heritage site, but efforts were complicated by the former junta’s controversial renovations—once called a ‘Disney-style fantasy’ by UN officials—hotel expansion and forced evictions of villages.

At Mrauk U, archeologists and conservation experts, not bureaucrats and construction companies, should be leading conservation and restoration efforts.

“There’s a plethora of challenges facing conservation of ancient buildings. The city of Mrauk U was once Southeast Asia’s greatest fortified cantonment,” Khin Than, chairperson of the Mrauk U Ancient Cultural Heritage Conservation Group, told Myitmakha News Agency recently.

“Tenders were put out for restorations of areas of Mrauk U, but a great deal of highly valued Rakhine [Arakan] cultural handiworks—found in pagodas, walls and brick walls—were destroyed as those carrying out the restorations were not archaeologists.”

Funding is another major challenge. The same news story said the Arakan State government had allocated 600 million kyats (US$491,000) for conservation for 2015-16 fiscal year to cover the sprawling area with hundreds of temples and other structures.

As we left the archeological museum and palace grounds, we chanced upon a group of men building a wire fence around a pond.

Called “Nan Thar Kan,” or a pond for palace residents, they recently unearthed the square pond using those funds. The work revealed a stone tablet, stone carvings of a deity and an ogre in each corner (as protection, apparently) and a cascade of old bricks leading down into it. What looked like an ordinary pond is now transformed into a beautiful, historic site.

A supervisor there said at least 10 more feet of sand still needed to be removed to completely uncover the pond. When will that happen, I asked? “We don’t know because we don’t know if, or when, we will get more funding,” he said.

This story first appeared on Myanmar Now.

The Rakkhanga-sannas-curnikava is a short document of eight palm leaves now deposited in the Library of the British Museum, London. On the evidence of the Sinhalese script employed in it, the document can be assigned to the eighteenth century. The script is, however, more developed than that used in the letter sent by King Naredrasimha to the Dutch Political Council in 1726. The first four leaves of the manuscript are devoted to a long list of pompous epithets intended to glorify the King of Kandy at the time the curnikava was indited. Of the other four leaves, three leaves and the first page of the last leaf are devoted to a very brief account of the first mission sent by King Vimaladharmsuriya II to Arakan in the yera 1693 for the purpose of examining the possiblities of obtaining the serves of some competent Buddhist monks to re-establish the upasampada in Ceylon.

On the History of Arakan by Capt. A. P. Phayre, Senior Assistant Commissioner Arakan

The following sketch of the history of Arakan I put forward chiefly in the hope of attracting others to this field of enquiry. A compilation was made at my request from various ancient chronicles, by Nga-mi, one of the most learned among the literati of his country, and I proceed to furnish an epitome of its contents. Many copies of the Radza-weng, (History of Kings,) are to be found among the Arakanese, differing from each other in details, being ample or scanty in the narrative, according to the research or imagination of the authors, bur, all agreeing in the main facts of the national history.

On the History of Arakan by Capt. A. P. Phayre, Senior Assistant Commissioner Arakan

More Arrests Reported over Alleged Armed Group Ties in Arakan State

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Thursday, February 4, 2016 0 comments

Arakan Army troops on parade in Laiza, Kachin State, in July 2014. (Photo: Thaw Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)
RANGOON — Authorities in Arakan State are continuing to arbitrarily arrest civilians on suspicion of links to the Arakan Army, according to several local sources, with the latest detainee a landowner from Taungup Township who was released on Wednesday evening.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Aung Tin Moe said he was arrested on Monday in Taungup Township’s Ma-Ei town by military personnel who quizzed him over suspected ties to the Arakan Army which has recently been engaged in clashes with government troops.
“They asked me what I have been doing since university age to this year,” said Aung Tin Moe, who owns a teak plantation in Ma-Ei town. He said he was detained by army personnel and held in neighboring Ann Township until his release on Wednesday evening.
A friend of Aung Tin Moe, citizen journalist Tun Tun Naing, has also claimed he is wanted by authorities in Kyaukphyu Township.
“I don’t know exactly why they are trying to apprehend me. I have heard that they [the Burma Army] suspect me because I was a childhood friend of Col. Nyo Tun Aung,” he said, referring to the vice chief-of-staff of the Arakan Army.
Last month, the chair of a local civil society organization and two other men were detained in Leik Kha Maw village, Kyaukphyu Township, on the grounds of their alleged links to the ethnic armed group, according to eyewitnesses.
Relatives of the detained men, one of whom is Maung Aye, the chair of the Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association, said they were originally being held at Kyaukphyu Prison.
Tun Lwin, coordinator of the Kyaukphyu Social Network, a separate organization, said he went to a military office in Zaytiya village in Kyaukphyu Township, along with six monks, to enquire about the detainees.
“They told us all they did was arrest the suspects according to orders,” Tun Lwin said. The trio have since been moved to an undisclosed location, according to Tun Lwin, who criticized authorities for arresting civilians on spurious grounds.
Other arrests were also reported last month. Taungup Township administrator Lu Maw said local police arrested two alleged Arakan Army soldiers found in possession of 50 walkie-talkies near the town’s outskirts on Jan. 9.
On Jan. 21, two Arakanese men were also detained in the capital Sittwe by army personnel, according to local media. Another Sittwe resident was reportedly detained a few days later.
The Irrawaddy phoned Arakan State security and border affairs minister Htein Linn on Wednesday but was unable to make contact.
In March 2015, fighting broke out between the Arakan Army and the Burma Army near Kyauktaw Township in what was believed to be the first time in a decade that ethnic Arakanese armed rebels in the region had clashed with government troops.
The following month, at least 20 people were detained under Burma’s Unlawful Association Law for their alleged links to the armed faction.
The latest skirmishes broke out in Kyauktaw Township on Dec. 27, with at least 200 civilians forced to flee their homes.
The Arakan Army is not recognized by the government and has been excluded from the ongoing peace process between Naypyidaw and other ethnic armed organizations.

Mrauk-U conservation seen as reconstructing not preserving

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Tuesday, January 26, 2016 0 comments

Heritage zones in Mrauk-U, Rakhine State, are under threat due to renovations that have altered the designs of ancient pagodas, the Mrauk-U Heritage Trust claims.
Nuns pray in Mrauk-U, Rakhine State. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar TimesNuns pray in Mrauk-U, Rakhine State. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times
The Department of Archaeology and the National Museum in Sittwe are both operating construction sites.
“They have destroyed the ancient architecture. For example, everyone who comes to visit the Ko Thaung Pagoda agrees that the renovation is badly done because it now looks totally different from its original design,” said Daw Khin Than, chair of the Mrauk-U Heritage Trust.
Ko Thaung Pagoda – a name which translates to “90,000 Pagodas” – is the largest in Mrauk-U.
The Mrauk-U Heritage Trust is also concerned about the construction of a museum in the heritage zone, on the site of an old colonial building. “They received a budget of K300 million for the construction and now they want to spend it all,” said Daw Khin Than.
In the heritage sites of Mrauk-U, the construction of new buildings is forbidden by a 1998 law.
“We have appealed to the Rakhine State government many times to ban the construction of the museum and explained to them why, but they replied to the Department of Archeology that the construction would continue as planned,” Daw Khin Than said.
The heritage zone in Bagan also falls under the protection of the 1998 law, but some hotels built in the area are now under investigation for possible violation of the law where a significant increase in tourism threatens conservation of the site.
The preservation of Mrauk-U, the last capital of the Arakanese kingdom, now faces similar threats, experts say. Parts of the heritage site were destroyed years ago for the construction of a railroad.
“The Department of Archaeology has conducted renovation on the palace, the city wall, several pagodas and other sites with a K660 million budget in Mrauk-U in the 2014-15 financial year, but all sites were damaged due to incorrect reconstruction,” according to the Mrauk-U Heritage Trust.
The organisation said that renovation work had also been done on the Ko Thaung Pagoda with a budget of K590 million during the 2015-16 financial year.
“We don’t know whether they are trying to preserve or destroy the pagodas,” Daw Khin Than said.
U Kyaw Hla Mg, president of the Regional Guide Society, sees great potential for Mrauk-U to become a tourist destination, if ancient pagodas hidden by hills and forest are systematically uncovered.
“The Department of Archeology has only uncovered 5 percent of pagodas are now hidden in the forests; the other 95 percent are now lost,” he said.
More than 3500 tourists visited Mrauk-U in 2014 and about 4200 in 2015, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. There are 1552 ancient pagodas in Mrauk-U and 6352 in the whole of Rakhine State.
“We could try to be listed as a [UNESCO] World Heritage Site but the renovations conducted by the Department of Archeology have destroyed the old architecture. It was reconstruction rather than renovation and ancient religious buildings were demolished,” U Kyaw Hla Mg said.
Daw Khin Than of the Mrauk-U Heritage Trust sees the renovations as a great loss for the Rakhine people. “We would like to show the Rakhine heritage to the world, but it has all been destroyed.”

Risks loom for Myanmar’s Kyaukphyu Economic Zone

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Monday, January 25, 2016 0 comments

The end of 2015 saw a series of major announcements and decisions regarding Myanmar’s latest special economic zone (SEZ) in Kyaukphyu township of Rakhine State. In late December, Myanmar’s government approved the demarcation of land for the SEZ and awarded tenders to develop the SEZ to a CITIC Group-led consortium.

The Kyaukphyu SEZ is a key part of Myanmar’s drive to attract foreign direct investment. It is one of three such zones set up since the military-backed USDP took over power from the Tatmadaw military junta via elections in 2011. Kyaukphyu’s SEZ includes three projects: a deep-sea port, an industrial park, and a housing project.
Optimistic projections suggest the SEZ may boost Myanmar’s GDP by as much as 10 billion USD annually. Failure, on the other hand, could undermine confidence in similar investment projects throughout the emerging economy.
The CITIC-led consortium chosen to develop the SEZ’s port and industrial park is composed of five additional firms, four of them Chinese: China Merchants Holdings Co. LTD, China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd., TEDA Investment Holding, Yunnan Construction Engineering Group, and Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group Company Limited.
Despite their initial success in the bidding, however, the consortium firms (and other investors interested in the future of the SEZ) face a series of formidable political risks.
First, Rakhine State’s ethno-religious tensions put the new SEZ at risk. Conflict between the Rakhine Buddhist majority and the state’s Muslim minorities has escalated into mob violence in the past.
During riots in 2012, for instance, inter-ethnic conflict led to the destruction of the Muslim quarter of Kyaukphyu township. In the event of further riots, mob violence could cause collateral damage to consortium property or personnel. Ethno-nationalist extremists might even intentionally target Chinese managers or workers given mounting anti-Chinese sentiment throughout the region.
Another set of risks stem from disputes with local landowners and civil society organizations (CSOs). Most of the township is populated by poor fishermen and farmers whose property and livelihoods will be significantly disrupted by the SEZ.
Environmental and rights-focused CSOs are already mobilizing locals and pressing for changes to SEZ plans over possible environmental impacts, the share of the project to be managed by Myanma firms and staffed by local workers, and the proper compensation for the land to be acquired for the SEZ. Disagreements over these issues – particularly land compensation – have held up similar projects, including the Dawei SEZ and Myitsone dam.
Kyaukphyu landowners are requesting a particularly high rate of compensation for their property – as much as five times what has been paid in other SEZ cases – and their demands are unlikely to be met.
In addition, resource nationalism and anti-Chinese sentiment is on the rise throughout Myanmar, particularly in Kyaukphyu where a number of gas extraction and pipeline projects have triggered protests in the past. Given the dominant role of Chinese firms in the consortium, and Kyaukphyu’s proximity to these gas projects, resource nationalism will likely intensify local resentment toward the SEZ.
As a consequence of these discontents, CSOs and local landowners could create problems for the new SEZ. There is a distinct possibility that these actors could orchestrate protests or broader unrest that could disrupt operations, escalate into limited violence, and generate bad press for Chinese businesses who already face an uphill battle in terms of public relations in Myanmar.
Additionally, these groups will likely lobby the incoming National League for Democracy (NLD) to revise, delay, or abandon the project which provides its own set of challenges.
Myanmar’s ongoing political transition to NLD-rule following November’s democratic elections poses potential political risks for the consortium.
Investors are still somewhat uncertain as to how competent the former opposition party will prove as it assumes power. The party has little experience governing, but will need to choose an effective replacement from among its ranks to replace the retiring chair of the Kyaukphyu SEZ committee, U Myint Thein.
There are also questions about how friendly the NLD and its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (DASSK) will be toward the consortium and the SEZ. NLD lawmakers – including the head of the NLD’s economic team, Han Thar Myint – opposed the parliamentary authorization for the SEZ, arguing it was conducted without sufficient consultation with the NLD. DAASK and the NLD were also opponents of the Chinese-backed Myitsone dam project that was suspended by the USDP amid protests by environmentalists, local landowners, and resource-nationalists.
The NLD’s activist roots may also make it more sympathetic toward local activists and CSOs. Furthermore, the NLD is not nearly as close with China as the Tatmadaw and its USDP affiliates.
Nevertheless, recent developments indicate that the consortium may fare well under the NLD. The party has made economic success one of their foremost priorities. The NLD’s resounding electoral victory should give it a powerful mandate, reducing its vulnerability to political pressure from local groups and activists opposed to major economic projects like the SEZ.
Recently, DASSK seems to have warmed to China and has also adopted a more pragmatic stance on Chinese-backed investments. In 2012, for instance, she supported a controversial Chinese copper minedespite major protests by local activists.
These signposts indicate that while the potential impact of NLD opposition to the SEZ is quite formidable, the probability of this risk may be diminishing.
Moving forward, the CITIC consortium and prospective investors in the Kyaukphyu SEZ need to monitor local and national politics closely.
It will be important to monitor 1) ethnoreligious tensions in the region, 2) local protests’ traction in national politics – particularly among former-activists in the NLD, and 3) the development of Sino-Myanmar relations under the new NLD government. Any one of these dynamics could create obstacles to the successful development of the otherwise promising Kyaukphyu SEZ.

Follow Twitter

Ancient Arakan Gold and Sliver Coins

    Translate This Page