Projects near pagoda in Yangon halted

Devotees at the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon.
Devotees at the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON • Myanmar's government is putting a halt to five controversial property developments near Shwedagon pagoda, the country's most famous Buddhist site.

The country's influential monks have led calls to stop the projects, which they say risk damaging and desecrating the golden pagoda.

"There were growing concerns among the people, monks, scholars and experts about the dangers of these projects to Shwedagon pagoda," government official Zaw Than Thin said on Tuesday night.

"The Myanmar Investment Commission and the Ministry of Defence also suggested that these projects be stopped."

Reuters reported him as saying the government would work with investors and ensure they would not incur any losses.

PRESERVING PAGODA

We don't want Shwedagon pagoda to be destroyed for any reason.

A MONK  leading the campaign against the developments

The scrapping of the projects highlights the rising influence of the monks, who are deeply revered in the Buddhist-majority nation.

The most prominent nationalist group of monks, the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, recently threw its support behind a campaign to halt the Shwedagon projects and threatened nationwide protests if they continued.

"We will rally Buddhists throughout Myanmar to oppose this project," a monk leading the campaign was quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). "We don't want Shwedagon pagoda to be destroyed for any reason."

Monks have been at the forefront of the nation's pro-democracy protests. Since 2011, when a quasi-civilian government took power following 49 years of military rule, some monks have grown increasingly nationalistic and stoked anti-Muslim sentiment while wading further into politics ahead of landmark elections later this year.

The five developments were originally suspended in January for a month after complaints about their proximity to Shwedagon and concerns over their height. The projects had government approval and construction had started on some of them.

Particular issue was taken with the most visible of the five, Dagon City One - a 9ha mixed-used property being developed by Marga Landmark, a joint venture between global property firm Marga Group and local partner Thu Kha Yadanar. The US$300 million (S$407 million) project on land once owned by Myanmar's military was supposed to offer hundreds of luxury apartments.

Analysts told WSJ it would have helped cool the market for both luxury condominiums and grade-A office space. REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2015, with the headline 'Projects near pagoda in Yangon halted'. Print Edition | Subscribe