Monday, April 02, 2007

Myanmar allows foreign media into new capital

Source: CNN.

NAY PYI TAW, Myanmar (Reuters) -- Myanmar's secretive military government has allowed foreign journalists into its new capital for the first time since it quit the leafy colonial-era Yangon in October 2005.

"As far as I know, visas were granted to everyone who applied for them this time, including those who used to be on the blacklist," an Information Ministry official said on Monday.

About 50 foreign journalists had been given visas to cover Tuesday's Armed Forces Day ceremonies in Nay Pyi Taw, which translates as Royal City, he said without naming names on the blacklist.

Senior General Than Shwe, the 74-year-old paramount leader, will speak to 10,000 soldiers on a parade ground overlooked by statues of three former Burmese kings.

But the main draw for foreign reporters is Nay Pyi Taw, 240 miles (385 km) north of Yangon, to which the military moved the government overnight.

The government, which rivals North Korea in its isolation, argues the site midway between coastal Yangon and the second city of Mandalay will work better as a national capital.

But exiled dissident groups say they believe the military, which has ruled the former Burma in one form or another since 1962, was paranoid after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Some say astrological forecasts swayed Than Shwe into an abrupt move before the capital was ready while other analysts have suggested he was merely copying Burmese kings who liked to build a new capital to mark the beginning of a new dynasty.

Still, there is more for the foreign journalists to see than only six months ago, when the place was more of a construction site surrounded by jungle-clad hills than a city.

About half a dozen hotels have been opened recently, all fully booked by diplomats and other people attending the Armed Forces Day ceremonies.

And already there are complaints.

One journalist thought $70 a night for a room was reasonable. "But they charge an extra 20 dollars per night for the use of Internet from your room," he said.

However, the big challenge is simply getting to Nay Pyi Taw.

There are three flights a week from Yangon and getting a seat is difficult. So most people drive.

It takes at least seven hours to get to Nay Pyi Taw by car along the two-lane Yangon-Mandalay road that passes through the busy centers of about 20 towns.

"A new six lane highway is under construction bypassing all these towns. When it is finished, you will be able to make it in under five hours," driver Ko Kyaw Soe said.

"However, if they don't lift the ban on the import of cars, you will have to travel on the new road by old jalopies like mine," he said pointing to his 1996 model Toyota, a relatively young vehicle in a country where vintage cars are common.

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