A year after night market opens, police still struggling to move vendors off the streets

A street vendor on Shwebontha Street, downtown Yangon.
A street vendor on Shwebontha Street, downtown Yangon.

Yangon police and city administrators began forcibly moving street stalls from Shwebontha Road in Pabedan Township to the official night market on Strand Road on Wednesday. The move comes almost exactly a year after the night market opened as a solution to the city’s congestion.

Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) official Ngwe Soe told Eleven: “We employed 40 men to move the shops. The township police also helped enforce security.”

City authorities instructed street vendors to only conduct their business at the night market and said hawking in front of residential buildings is illegal.

“They [should be] housed on Strand Road. Everything is ready. They just have to set up their shops and sell,” said Ngwe Soe, adding that violators would be prosecuted.

YCDC banned vendors from the streets of Yangon in September 2014, though the order did not gain traction until the committee opened the Strand Road night market on November 23, 2016, after years of delays.

Many street vendors have resisted moving to the Strand Road market because of its comparatively low foot traffic and because of a lack of space. The market was organized to accommodate 1,600 vendors, but there are an estimated 6,000 vendors in all of downtown Yangon.

Vendors who did not initially receive spaces in the night market were ordered to move their stalls to side streets and stay out of main streets. In the months after the restrictions came into effect, several vendors whose livelihoods were harmed staged protests against YCDC, demanding better places to sell their goods and sympathy for the families of vendors who were arrested while trying to make a living.

In December 2016, a viral video showed the aftermath of an assault by YCDC officials on a street vendor who was working on a downtown street. The uploader wrote: “This was someone who was making a livelihood and trying to earn some money. Instead of helping clean up, they punched him three times, kicked the items he was selling, and swore at him.”

The following month, vendors on 8th Street in Lanmadaw Township fought back by throwing rocks and beer bottles at police who were trying to forcibly remove them from the street. The altercation ended with the police and the vendors filing charges against each other.

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