16 Oct 2020 - Source: The Irrawaddy - The Mandalay regional government's plan to plant around 3,000 trees as part of a greening plan in Bagan has drawn criticism that it could damage unexplored, buried sites and the cultural landscape.

The Myanmar Archaeology Association (MAA) denounced the greening project as it involves digging with heavy equipment, including excavators, within the Unesco World Heritage Site.

"Trees should not be planted in the property zone. It is against procedures to use heavy machinery and that is why we objected," MAA secretary Ko Thura Aung told The Irrawaddy.

While the project might make environmental sense, from an archaeological perspective it was inappropriate as the monuments were built to suit the arid climate of central Myanmar, he said.

The impact on Bagan's buildings must be considered, he added.

The archaeological zone includes eight areas beside a bend on the Ayeyarwady River, seven of which are on the eastern side.

The United Nations cultural agency, Unesco, said the zone has 3,595 recorded monuments, including stupas, temples and other Buddhist structures, extensive archaeological sites and many other inscriptions, murals and sculptures.

The greening project is being implemented in the area that includes Old Bagan. Growing trees and using heavy machinery in the area contravenes the principles of conservation, said Ko Myint Naing, an executive on the Bagan Heritage Trust.

"Digging deeper than six inches in the property zone is forbidden. And digging must be done under the supervision of the archaeology department. It is not allowed to use machinery that causes vibration," he said.

The MAA said it would wait for the regional government's response in the next two weeks and if the greening project continues, the association will launch an online petition.

The Bagan branch of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum has also raised objections to growing trees in the zone.

"We have suggested that they can grow trees outside the property zone, along roads," said the branch's director, Dr. Than Htike.

Nyaung-U District administrator U Kyaw Kyaw Ohn said project tender was invited with the permission of the regional government. The tender winner is only digging with light machinery and the district general administration department has asked the archaeology department to mark spots suitable for growing trees, he added.

Trees will not be grown near pagodas and walls so as not to obstruct views of pagodas and stupas. And trees will not be taller than 9 meters, in line with the archaeology department's guidelines, he said.

"The trees will conform to the regulations of the archaeology department to provide shade and beauty. Trees will be grown on roadsides, far from the pagodas and they will be 9 meters apart so don't worry," said U Kyaw Kyaw Ohn.

The greening project is implemented with 2.5 billion kyats (US$1.9 million) granted by the regional government from the funds for greening and beautifying Bagan and Nyaung-U. Tenders were invited for eight schemes, including the greening project. Aung Myin Thar Htet Co. won the greening project contract.

Bagan was added to the World Heritage List by Unesco in July 2019. Its more than 3,000 pagodas and temples date from between the ninth to the 13th centuries, spanning the rule of about 50 Bagan Dynasty kings.