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Although Burma moved its capital from Rangoon to Naypyidaw in 2005, foreign embassies have been unwilling to relocate to the new city. More than 40 countries, including China, the USA, Britain and India, continue to house their diplomats in the former capital.
It seems most embassy staff still prefer to be among the traffic, the chaos and the melting pot of cultures in Rangoon (now officially known as Yangon), with its colourful markets, colonial architecture, and swarming sidewalks of street stalls, teashops and potholes.
Naypyidaw – the Abode of Kings – is by comparison a sprawling ghost town, a concrete dystopia that has become a by-word for boredom and bureaucracy. International diplomats who work there invariably live out of hotels.
But all that may be about to change.
Naypyidaw municipal officials have laid out plans for a “diplomatic residential zone” for embassy employees and their families in an affluent area in the southern part of the city, located behind the Junction Center Mall, close to the Capital Hypermarket and Royal Myanmar Golf Club.
In addition, Naypyidaw municipality says it will lease five-acre plots of land to foreign embassies. According to Myo Aung, the permanent secretary of the Naypyidaw municipal committee, each diplomatic plot will be offered on a 50-year lease for US$500,000 per acre.
“We are still negotiating,” said Myo Aung. “Some embassies want to exchange their existing land [in Rangoon] for a new plot in Naypyidaw. We cannot arrange that for them. Instead, we have advised the embassies to consult with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“If foreign embassies want to lease land in Naypyidaw, we are standing by.”
More than ten countries are currently involved in discussions, he said, about the prospect of relocating their embassies to the capital; however, so far, only two have signed leases: Bangladesh and Malaysia.
Myo Aung added that The US embassy is among those who have proposed exchanging their Rangoon-based compound for a plot in Naypyidaw.
He also said that several embassy officials had raised questions about health and education facilities in Naypyidaw.