Fri 23 Feb 2007
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
Naypyidaw: Myanmar’s generals call their new administrative capital “the abode of kings” and in keeping with the name the year-old town of Naypyidaw offers many luxuries that are unimaginable elsewhere in the country.
Here the electricity runs 24 hours a day, while in Yangon daily blackouts last up to six hours. Government workers here can buy new condos with official assistance, something few could dream of before the move.
Traffic moves easily down freshly paved concrete roads, and the brightly coloured new buildings give Naypyidaw the feeling of a mountain retreat rather than a military bunker.
But those benefits come at a steep personal cost, because the tens of thousands of people who are believed to now live in this remote mountain town in the jungles of central Myanmar must give up almost all contact with the outside world.
It’s an arduous 10-hour drive to cover the 400 kilometres (250 miles) between Yangon and Naypyidaw, so weekend visits for the relocated bureaucrats to visit family and friends — or vice versa — are out of the question.
Even calls home are difficult because Naypyidaw was intentionally designed without any cell phone coverage and has no plans to introduce it. The military says this is to guarantee security for the senior officials living here.
“We have no plans for mobile phones because of security reasons. We use walkie-talkies here,” said a senior military official who lives in the new city.
Private telephone lines are not allowed inside the apartments allocated to most government employees, so they are forced to call home from the few public phones located in the lobbies of their buildings.
The nearby town of Pyinmana, which was a simple logging centre until Naypyidaw sprang up, remains largely undeveloped and offers little in the way of communication.
“I cannot use my mobile here, even in Pyinmana. We can use the land line in our offices whenever we need to talk to our families, but we can’t use those phones to call home every day,” said a junior official in the health ministry, adding: “We feel lonely here.”
When the military government made its surprise announcement early on November 7, 2005 that it was moving the capital, civil servants were told they would not be permitted to take their spouses or children along when they moved.
At the time, Naypyidaw had no schools or clinics — not even a grocery store or market.
Life has slowly improved as new buildings and facilities have opened, and two months ago the junta lifted the ban on families though many are still reluctant to take advantage of the eased rules, mostly be-cause of concerns about the standard of schooling available for their children.
The compound that houses Myanmar’s military headquarters remains secluded and strictly off-limits to outsiders, but the zones including government offices and residences have begun to resemble functioning neighbourhoods.
“Some lower-level staffers want to move there because they can own an apartment, which they can only dream about in Yangon,” an employee of the telecommunication ministry in Yangon said.
“But not many family members moved there because they worry for children’s education,” she said. “I don’t want to move there, because I wouldn’t be able to call my family when I get homesick.”
Businessmen and diplomats say the lack of telephone service makes it impossible to get any kind of work done in Naypyidaw.
“We lose all our communication there. We don’t want to make business calls from government offices. It’s always a problem for us,” said one businessman who goes to regular meetings in Naypyidaw. “I can’t stay there for very long.”
The military has offered embassies and UN agencies five acres (two hectares) of land each to build new missions here starting next year, but so far no one has taken up the offer.