Urban Development
covering burma and southeast asia
Friday, November 22, 2019


Urban Development

By The Irrawaddy JANUARY, 1997 - VOLUME 5 NO.1


"RIP: Rest In Pieces"

On Nov 14th 1996, the Slorc posted a notice at the gate of Kyandaw Cemetery giving relatives one month’s notice to move the remains to a new site at Shwe Nyaung-bin, two hours drive from Rangoon.

Kyandaw cemetery is located on 50-70 acres of what has become prime real estate in downtown Rangoon, near Hantha-waddy intersection. Both Burmese and foreigners are buried there of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths. Rumours abound in Rangoon as to what the military government wants the land for; a casino to be built by Khun Sa, a hotel to be built with foreign investment, or, a Japanese shopping center.

Whatever is planned for this land remains unknown as the Slorc refuse to specify at this stage. A Slorc spokesman, Major Hla Min stated on a recent Asian Business News television interview: "Yangon has changed, and the location of the cemetery, once it was probably on the outskirts of Yangon, but today its almost in the center of the city, so naturally it has to be relocated."

The deadline for the removal of the remains from the cemetery was extended by two weeks to December 31st. What remains on the land after this date is to be razed.

Cemeteries and graves are moved in cities all over the world as urban areas expand. What makes this Burmese move different is the way it is being carried out. The Slorc have given little notice, moving costs are expensive, and there is little respect given by the Slorc-employed workers to the dead.

Religious ceremonies required to move the dead in some faiths are being hurried along and performed under restricted conditions. Members of one Christian denomination requested the Slorc to allow the construction of a temporary chapel at the new burial site, so that appropriate blessings could be administered there. The Slorc would not allow a chapel to be built, but conceded that they could have a "shed to organise" the re-burial at, but not a chapel to pray or conduct consecrations in.

In faiths where the dead cannot be moved, such as Islam, little or no discussion has been entered into with local religious leaders to what should be done in this situation. Local Muslims state that it is against their religion to move the dead once they are buried and state that the Slorc will just bulldoze the graves of the Muslims after the deadline to move has passed.

In 1993, in Mandalay, Lt Gen Tun Gyi gave the order to flatten a Muslim cemetery after the local Islamic community explained that according to their religion it was impossible for them to move the graves. The Muslims then stood by and watched the Burmese army desecrate the graves of their relatives.

In Judaic law, graves can be moved provided the proper rites are conducted by a Rabbi at the time. There are 700 graves at the Jewish cemetery in downtown Ran-goon that are currently being moved. There are eight Jewish families in Rangoon and without a Rabbi of their own there seems little hope of a re-burial according to religious law and custom. The Jewish community helped raise money for the costs of relocation and for assistance with the religious rites.

The Slorc employed young workers to assist with the digging up of the graves who have little respect for the dead. Although there is often little of value in the graves, looting has been taking place. We saw young boys employed to work at the cemetery to dig up graves, taking the clothes off one skeleton and trying them on. The whole graveyard had been dug up and although most of the graves were empty, there were rotting remains sticking out of some graves and the stench was awful.

There were bones scattered on the ground in some places, and scavengers were also collecting both bones and bricks to sell.

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