Confusion reigns over Yangon curfew crackdown

By MRATT KYAW THU & SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER

YANGON — Late-night venue owners have been left baffled over plans to once again enforce a citywide curfew on drinking establishments in Yangon, after it was revealed on Thursday that Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein had not approved the scheme.

During a session of the Yangon Region Anti-Drugs Association, Colonel Tin Aung Tun, the Yangon Region Security and Border Affairs Minister, told the audience that “rumours” on social media saying that bars, beer stations and KTV parlours would be required to close at 11pm was not an official announcement of the regional government.

“For the time being, we’ve heard that [venues] are to close at 11pm,” he told the meeting, held at the Yangon Region government offices in Ahlone Township on Thursday. “Then I asked the Yangon government about that, and was told there was no official announcement.”

Speaking at the same event, the chief minister told the audience that the 11pm order had not been authorised by his government. Nonetheless, he appeared to endorse the crackdown.

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“We just want to warn that [venues] should not act like that,” Phyo Min Thein said.

Adding to the confusion, venue owners have told Frontier that different township police stations have ordered trade to cease at different times, while other regional government officials charged with overseeing drinking regulations were ignorant of the plan when asked.

Earlier this week, liquor licence holders were invited to meetings at various township police stations to discuss the curfew.

They were told that the city was in the middle of a 100-day plan that included action to tackle local crime rates.

“They were not clear on why they needed to do that,” one downtown bar owner, who requested anonymity, said of the curfew. “They said it’s an order from the top and they just have to follow it.”

On May 10, Phyo Min Thein announced a crackdown on gangs in Yangon, as part of the regional government’s 100-day policy plan. The plan features a strong emphasis on ensuring the rule of law and reducing crime, state media reported.

The broader 100-day plan, ostensibly mapping the new National League for Democracy government’s priorities for its first three months and mentioned with regular frequency by senior NLD officials in recent weeks, has not been released to the public.

The bar owner added that the current crackdown had resulted from the schism between the new NLD-majority assembly in Yangon and the bureaucratic structures responsible for enforcing licensing conditions.

“I think the NLD does not have any say in this now,” he told Frontier. “Basically the police … can close whoever they want. However, they don’t have enough manpower to control the whole township.”

The General Administration Department is responsible for issuing liquor licences, while township police offices are responsible for enforcing their conditions.

Both fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, one of three government ministries directly controlled by the military.

Prior to 2008, all liquor licences in Yangon, except those issued to hotels, obligated venues to close at 11pm.

That year, closure times were officially brought forward to 10pm, but a de-facto agreement between business owners and Yangon police meant that most late-night venues remained open for at least another hour.

Police mounted a similar crackdown in May 2015, leading to a significant impact on revenue in the hospitality trade.

The curfew lasted until after the November election, after which a lack of enforcement led some licence-holders to stay open into the early hours of the morning.

This time around, police have not taken the uniform approach seen 12 months ago. Some venue owners have been instructed to close at 10pm, while others have fruitlessly sought clarification from civil servants.

“Last Wednesday I heard something about police are going into a few restaurants and hunting down places that aren’t closing on time, which is 11pm,” said another bar owner. “This week, when I went to the Kyauktada [government offices] to renew my liquor licence, I asked the officer about curfew. He sounded like he had no idea about it.”

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