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Posts Tagged ‘Nay Pyi Daw

Penguins and golf in Burma’s hidden capital

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By Helen Beaton in Naypyidaw, Burma
Friday, 19 September 2008

Labourers build the City Hall in Naypyidaw, Burma’s new purpose-built capital (AP)

A year ago this week, Burma saw its biggest uprising in decades when Buddhist monks and thousands of civilians poured onto the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay. But as the world watched, the targets of their fury were nowhere to be seen. The generals who rule Burma had relocated hundreds of miles to the north to a new purpose-built capital city designed to be impervious to protest or invasion.

Welcome to Naypyidaw, a bizarre, white-elephant place populated only by government employees forced to relocate. Building began after the personal astrologer of Than Shwe, the head of the notorious Burmese junta, prophesied unrest in 2005. The superstitious – and paranoid – regime selected a site in the remote badlands of central Burma and set about turning their mad vision into bricks and mortar.

Millions of Burmese are still reeling from Cyclone Nargis while rising food prices push many closer to starvation, but the military rulers are pumping money into their personal utopia. Sealed off from the rest of the world, an estimated £2.7bn from the ruby, teak and opium trades is giving Naypyidaw such luxuries as 24-hour lighting – most Burmese get electricity for a few hours a day – three golf courses and a zoo, complete with a climate-controlled penguin house.

Glimpses of the hidden city are rare. There are no international flights. Foreigners are banned. There is no mobile phone network. To get here, would-be visitors must take the battered road north of Rangoon. Suddenly the dirt track becomes a vast eight-lane highway stretching across the scrub land to the horizon. The highway is weirdly empty, used only by horses and carts and the occasional, screaming convoy of the junta’s blacked-out SUVs.

The city itself is eerie, a jumble of new buildings spread over scrubland and linked by yet more wide roads. The government claims that a million people live here, but apart from construction labourers (widely assumed to be forcibly employed) and government workers, Naypyidaw is deserted. A few labourers in dirty sarongs walk past – they smile hesitantly and scurry away. Further on, we pass a group of women in the white shirts and green sarongs of the government uniform. They too avert their eyes.

Over everything hangs an unsettling quiet: where most Asian cities bustle, here there is silence. Along yet another empty road is a half-built shopping centre, with a huge glass front dusty from disuse. Nearby, a huge neoclassical building apparently modelled on Wall Street is being erected: it’s the new bank. Other projects are further behind: “Mitsubishi Electronics Coming Soon!” declares a sign erected at a jaunty angle. Behind it is an empty field. Along another highway are hundreds of blocks of flats – there are more than 1,500 across the city. Many are clearly uninhabited. In an Orwellian touch, they are colour-coded according to the ministry whose employees they house: blue for Health, green for Agriculture and Irrigation. Next to them is a police station; outside a large board asks surreally, “May I help you?”

Than Shwe and his junta have locked themselves away in a fortress within a fortress, in a closely guarded secret quarter populated entirely by military leadership. No civilians – let alone foreigners – are allowed here. Reports say the area is a network of bunkers and luxury houses, from which the generals rarely venture, emerging downtown only to play golf or gamble in the specially built five-star hotels.

Even in nearby Pyinmana, a sleepy, poor town a few miles away, conversation is guarded. What do people here think of Naypyidaw? “They don’t,” says one local bitterly. “We just survive day to day.” “Than Shwe is a king, he wants his own palace,” shrugs another. “And although he is king, he is afraid of many things. He thinks that here he will be safe.”

He may be right. A year on from the protests, there is little sign of more. There is no money for an armed uprising, and no organisation to run it. Hundreds are still in prison and many more are in exile.

By clicking the above URL, further reading about Burma will be found at the bottom of the original published article.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

September 19, 2008 at 3:11 am

Myanmar capital in sharp contrast to cyclone zone

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By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer

Myanmar soldiers march during Armed Forces Day ceremonies on March 27, 2007, in the new capital city of Naypyitaw.  The generals moved the capital to a central location north of Yangon with extravagant buildings and massive statues of former Burmese kings.  (AP Photo/David Longstreath)

AP Photo: Myanmar soldiers march during Armed Forces Day ceremonies on March 27, 2007, in the new…

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar – Getting to see one of the world’s most reclusive military strongmen requires a VIP flight, armed escorts and soldiers pointing the way — not to mention a disaster of epic proportions.

Even a calamity the size of Cyclone Nargis hasn’t stopped construction in the newly built capital of Naypyitaw (nay-pee-DAW), Senior Gen. Than Shwe‘s extravagant vanity project. The junta leader and his team of generals have overseen its making since 2005.

Than Shwe‘s rising Shangri-La of officialdom contrasts starkly with the misery in the rest of the country, one of the poorest and most repressed in the world.

A sign outside one government office read, “Can I Help You?” But a few hundred miles south, that was an offer in short supply where thousands of homeless survivors begged for food on the roadsides.

The cyclone’s floodwaters have left more than 2 million people hungry, homeless and at risk of disease. The xenophobic government has admitted it needs foreign expertise and $11 billion to rebuild. But it waited nearly a month to allow some foreign aid workers access to the disaster zone.

During a visit to Naypyitaw, Than Shwe and other top generals received U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last Friday and granted a small group of foreign journalists a rare glimpse inside his palatial compound.

The journey began with a one-hour flight aboard a chartered government plane from Yangon, the former capital known as Rangoon. The 250-mile drive north to the generals’ capital can take a half-day along a potholed two-lane road.

There has never been an official explanation of why the capital was moved so far inland. Some have speculated the junta feared a U.S. invasion. Others say Than Shwe, known to be superstitious, consulted an astrologer. Burmese leaders before him have relocated their seats of power several times.

From the airport, it was a 40-minute drive on a Los Angeles-style eight-lane highway — the widest and smoothest road in the country — to Than Shwe’s opulent meeting room.

Virtually no cars or people were seen, aside from workers hand-sweeping the roadside.

Entering the city required passage through a fenced checkpoint along the highway. The capital has 24-hour electricity, a rarity in Myanmar, but forget cell phone service or international flights.

Soldiers greeted the VIP motorcade with salutes as it moved along the main road, passing sprawling new golf courses and resorts with signs like “The Thingaha — uber cool.” Few people were spotted anywhere.

Inside one resort, well-groomed waiters served cool green melon drinks. At another stop, the group was offered a buffet of seafood, noodles and other local fare on elegant wooden tables. The five-star luxury hotels featured circular driveways, gleaming fountains, shady foyers and sunny pools.

The capital, segregated into military and civilian districts, is surrounded by hills believed to hold a hive of bunkers. Bronze statues of three former Burmese kings pay tribute to a history of military might. Naypyitaw means “abode of kings” in Burmese.

A shopping mall, a high school built like a fortress and a stadium described by one local official as “a training ground for parading” are inside the military area. International reporters are rarely allowed into the country, except to cover the annual military parade.

A sightseeing tour of half-built government buildings led through a massive construction site of unfinished Soviet-style facades. Workers lined up to wave at the passing U.N. diplomats and foreign press.

There was also little sign of life near some of the city’s 1,200 new four-story apartment complexes.

Once at Than Shwe‘s pillared compound, armed guards greeted the group, leading them through a two-story entrance hall that opened onto a 15-foot rock sculpture topped with a serene alpine mural.

Than Shwe and the U.N. chief sat side by side on throne-like chairs with floral upholstery, separated by a bouquet of pink and white flowers and a silver tea set. Chandeliers and ceiling-high depictions of golden pagodas adorned the room.

“He told me that he has never had any such candid meeting with anybody else in the world,” Ban said, hoping that the face-to-face session would hasten the regime’s willingness to accept outside help for cyclone victims.

Naypyitaw is far removed from the hard reality in the rest of the impoverished country, where one in three children is malnourished and many people scrape by on $1 a day.

The senior general, who failed to complete high school, had repeatedly ignored Ban’s phone calls and letters immediately after the cyclone.

Than Shwe thanked Ban for his letters, and apologized for not replying, U.N. officials said. The junta leader said he had no time to personally reply in the aftermath of what he called the worst disaster in the country’s history.

He and two top officials who greeted Ban wore matching khaki-green military uniforms laden with medals, their neatly pressed shirts open at the neck.

Only rarely has Than Shwe been seen in civilian clothes. At the 2006 wedding of his daughter, he wore an orange sarong and white shirt. A secret video of the lavish ceremony surfaced on YouTube, causing outrage in the impoverished country.

In person, Than Shwe is more diminutive than his larger-than-life public persona. Short and bespectacled, the stocky 76-year-old who is known as “the bulldog” was silent when asked by a Western reporter if he had any comment for the outside world.

Behind the giant wooden doors, Than Shwe did all the talking for the first 50 minutes of the two-hour-and-10-minute meeting, according to U.N. officials.

At the end, Ban walked away with a promise of more access for foreign aid workers to the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta region.

“This is just the beginning of my dialogue and communication with the Myanmar authorities,” Ban said. “Let us see how this will develop.”;_ylt=AicrCTMA4_H42dsmL6Uf8ypvaA8F

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 29, 2008 at 8:26 am