Saturday, May 23, 2009


By Anuj Chopra

NAYPYIDAW, BURMA -- When widespread protests erupted in 2007 on the streets of Rangoon, Burma's longtime capital, the ruling military generals hunkered down from the enraged crowds in their newest sanctuary, a remote administrative capital 400 kilometres to the north. Naypyidaw is an impregnable – or at least unreachable – command post, boasting Stalinist-style buildings, luxury homes, wide paved boulevards, and 24-hour-a-day electricity that is a world away from the blackouts and daily hardships faced by Burma's poor. The name translates into English as, Seat of Kings, and is teeming with an army of 80,000 bedraggled-looking construction workers, which human rights groups claim include forced labour programs. Hacked out of a malarial jungle starting in 2005, this 10-square-kilometre inland fortress – off limits to foreigners – is being built as the military's nerve centre, far from prying eyes ...

By Anuj chopra
When the deeply-rutted village tracks morphed into wide, paved, six-lane roads, I knew I was nearing Burma's new jungle capital. A long and bumpy overnight bus ride, traversing 250 miles from Rangoon, has brought me to Naypyidaw – the country's administrative capital since 2005, and a secluded, secretive sanctuary for Burma's military generals. In Rangoon, two private bus services refused to sell me a ticket, fearing retribution from the military junta for ferrying a foreigner to the generals' nerve center. One owner of a rickety bus agreed to take me after I offered to pay double – with the caveat that he'd offload me the minute he sensed trouble with military authorities. Fortunately, it was a smooth ride (but for the rutted roads) and I was dropped at the hotel zone. I asked for a room at the Myat Taw Win hotel, one of many plush hotels, nervous I might be turned away. The receptionist gave me a cold stare, noted down my passport details in a mammoth register, and for $60 a night, offered me the key to a luxurious, self-contained villa with foreign cable TV and air conditioning. After some arguing, the hotel agreed to rent me a $3-an-hour motorbike with a driver, for a quick tour of Naypyidaw. "No pictures," I was warned. Two men caught taking pictures a few months ago are now serving time in the notorious Insein prison in Rangoon, I was reminded. ...

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