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Cablegate: Burma Expects Dip Corps to Move to Pyinmana in 2008

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RANGOON 001377

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL AMGT BM
SUBJECT: BURMA EXPECTS DIP CORPS TO MOVE TO PYINMANA IN 2008

REF: RANGOON 1346 AND PREVIOUS

1. (U) SUMMARY: Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials told
the diplomatic corps on December 9 that the Government of
Burma expects all diplomatic missions to move to the new
administrative capital of Pyinmana some time in early 2008.
MOFA officials told the 55 diplomats and UN agency
representatives attending the short-notice briefing that each
mission would be allocated five acres of land in the
GOB-selected &diplomatic enclave8 at the remote new city,
with an extra two acres for missions with defense attaches.
The MOFA officials promised that Pyinmana,s current lack of
electricity, telephone lines, water, sewage capacity, food
supply and hotel space would improve by the end of 2007, but
admitted that there are no plans to open international
schools or expand the airstrip to allow international
flights. Diplomats will be allowed to visit their potential
new homes in mid-2006, but not earlier. Between now and
2008, GOB officials will remain out of touch. End summary.

PACK NOW, PLAN LATER
--------------------

2. (SBU) On December 9, outgoing MOFA Director-General of
Protocol Thura Aung Htet, the Dir Gen-designate (Brigadier
General Kyaw Kyaw, who remained scowling and silent
throughout the meeting) and Director General of Planning and
Administration Lin Myaing (Burma,s former Ambassador to the
U.S.) briefed Charges, DCMs and admin officers from the
Rangoon diplomatic corps and resident UN agencies about the
ongoing move to Pyinmana, a small city in a remote central
Burma valley that is becoming the country,s new capital.
They said that most GOB ministries, including the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, are preoccupied with relocating their staff
and equipment to Pyinmana. Most remaining staff will follow
in 2006. After the meeting, Amb. Lin Myaing told emboff, &We
are all trying to adjust to the move and the hardships it
causes. My family is in Rangoon, and I am stuck up there all
week.8 Americas Division Director Min Lwin told poloff he
has returned to Rangoon to work until the end of January,
when MOFA,s new Pyinmana building is due to be completed. .

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3. (U) Aung Htet began the briefing by announcing that
foreign missions were expected to move to Pyinmana at the end
of 2007. He said each embassy would be allowed to lease a
five-acre plot of land (with two extra acres for missions
with defense attachs) in an area designated by the GOB as
the &diplomatic enclave,8 located near the airstrip about
17 miles south of Pyinmana city and about 25 miles from the
new GOB offices and military headquarters. The land would be
leased, not offered for sale, at a price the GOB would
calculate later after adding in its costs for infrastructure
development in the area, he added. He assured the group that
leases would be offered &at reasonable prices,8 but did not
yet know whether the bills would be in Kyat (the Burmese
currency) or U.S. dollars.

4. (U) When pressed for details, he said that missions could
choose which plots they wanted and could lease multiple plots
as &space allows,8 but that no mission could be located
outside the designated diplomatic enclave in Pyinmana.
Housing for all diplomats and their families must be located
within the chancery site, he added. Missions would be
expected to construct their own facilities or work through
GOB-approved contractors.

5. (U) The Protocol Director told UN agencies that that the
GOB was building an office building and housing for them near
the diplomatic enclave. Both briefers admitted that
construction at the new capital site was still in its early
stages, but assured everyone that roads, electrical grids,
communications, water supply and sewage lines would be ready
by the end of 2007. Diplomats would be invited to tour
Pyinmana at an appropriate time, but no earlier than April
2006. The nearby military airstrip would be turned into a
commercial airfield in about six months, but there were no
plans to enlarge it for international flights; travelers
would still need to transfer via Rangoon or Mandalay. The
MOFA officials also promised that there would be &at least
six8 hotels of international standard in Pyinmana, along
with a modern shopping mall and areas for &public
entertainment.8 All other details, they said, &will be
provided at the appropriate time.8

DON,T EVERYBODY RUSH NORTH AT ONCE
----------------------------------

6. (SBU) The briefers faced a barrage of questions from the
diplomatic corps at the end of the briefing. The Thais asked
how embassies could be ready to move at the end of 2007 if
they were not allowed to start construction in Pyinmana until
late 2006. Lin Myaing admitted that, since foreign missions
are not likely to be able to begin construction until 2007,
most would not be able to move in until 2008. A UN
representative asked when the UN building in Pyinmana would
be ready and was told &2008 at the very earliest.8

7. (SBU) The Koreans asked whether embassies could choose
other locations in the Pyinmana area; the MOFA answer was,
&No. All missions must be within the diplomatic enclave.8
The Koreans also asked whether there would be any
international schools in Pyinmana. Aung Htet responded,
&No. We do not run international schools in this country.
The United States Embassy does, so you will have to ask
them.8 (Note: The U.S. mission provides funding support to
the International School of Yangon. The Chinese, Japanese,
Indonesian, French and Russian Embassies operate their own,
smaller schools. End Note.)

8. (SBU) Several at the meeting asked how they could budget
for a forced relocation without knowing the costs. Lin
Myaing said the lease costs for office space and plots of
land would not be &too high,8 but said they would also
include the cost of bringing Pyinmana,s infrastructure &up
to international standards.8 He said the GOB would work out
costs and inform foreign missions at a later date; the GOB
would also inform UN agencies &in due course8 of rental
costs for their GOB-built office space.

9. (SBU) The British and Thai asked whether missions would
be allowed to maintain a presence in Rangoon after 2007.
Aung Htet and Lin Myaing initially disagreed about this issue
and argued it out in front of the others before concluding,
&No one is being forced to move, but missions are expected
to move there after 2007.8 Aung Htet stressed that office
space would not be available for missions seeking to post one
officer in Pyinmana; any embassy would still need to build
its own chancery in the diplomatic enclave to maintain a
presence in the administrative capital.

10. (SBU) The Bangladeshis and Koreans asked how foreign
missions would be expected to reach and meet with GOB
officials between now and 2008. The answers to both
questions were, &Do not worry. Everything is under control.
We will work those issues out soon.8 When pressed by the
Japanese, Aung Htet said that the earliest date diplomats
would be allowed missions to visit Pyinmana would be &April
2006 or later,8 and stressed that no one should try to visit
before then (NOTE: our recent reftel excursion was not
raised). After April, requests to visit Pyinmana would
require a diplomatic note 10 days in advance.

11. (U) Aung Htet admitted at the briefing that there were
no plans for any international-standard hospitals or schools
for Pyinmana: he said the military hospital in Pyinamna was
off-limits to foreigners and a civilian hospital in the
nearby city only met &local standards.8 He insisted
transportation access to Pyinmana was good, citing the
12-hour &express8 train and the 7 hour drive from Rangoon.
Emboff asked about communications; Lin Myaing claimed that
Pyinmana has &excellent8 electrical supply and internet and
telephone coverage (&better than in Rangoon,8 he said), but
admitted that cell-phone and satellite communications would
be a problem in the new location. &Maybe for geographic
reasons, maybe for security reasons, I do not know,8 he
mused. (Note: we have heard separately that cell phones and
satellite dishes are prohibited in the new administrative
capital. End note)

NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME
------------------------

12. (SBU) COMMENT: Like Burma,s civil servants a month ago,
the diplomatic corps was stunned by the illogical request to
move to Pyinmana before construction is completed and without
the details necessary to prepare for a major move. The
briefing raised many more questions (and eyebrows) than it
answered. No one among foreign missions seems to be in a
hurry to move to a diplomatic ghetto located six hours from
the nearest international airport (the Malaysians asked how
missions would receive diplomatic pouches; MOFA officials
shrugged and admitted that they were already facing this
problem themselves). Some foreign missions may feel obliged
to station one officer (preferably one in good health and
without a family) in Pyinmana in 2008, but not many will be
able to afford building a new chancery for one person. Some
embassies have indicated that they will close rather than
move to Pyinmana. Every move the regime makes these days
shows they are content to make it harder for GOB civil
servants to maintain contact with the annoying outside world.
If they succeed in driving embassies out of the country, one
suspects few regime tears will be shed. End comment.
VILLAROSA

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