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Bomb scare puts spotlight on ‘Death Highway’ buses

Highway police surround a bus that was the target of a bomb scare on 4 May 2016. (Photo: Mandalar Min Express)

A bus company operating on Burma’s busiest highway has condemned the perpetrators of a bomb hoax that caused a panic among its passengers and forced the country’s military to send a bomb disposal team to the scene on Wednesday.

“Because of one individual who doesn’t like peace and tranquillity, the time and energy of our passengers, highway police officials and Tatmadaw servicemen were wasted,” the Mandalar Min Express bus company said in a statement on its Facebook page.

According to the statement, the company said its office in the central Burmese city of Meikhtila received a phone call on Wednesday afternoon from a man who claimed to be in the town of Maymyo, warning that a time bomb had been planted on its Rangoon-Naypyidaw bus.

The company immediately contacted the highway police, who then informed the army’s bomb disposal unit based in Pegu Division’s Indagaw town of the threat. A bomb disposal team was dispatched to the scene to search the bus, but no explosives were found. However, rumours quickly spread on social media claiming that the bomb squad had removed some liquid explosives wrapped in a plastic bag from the bus.

In its statement, Mandalar Min Express also lashed out at those who spread misinformation about the incident.

“We also strongly denounce those claiming on social media that some explosive liquid was removed from the bus — anyone who has a brain understands that explosive materials cannot be wrapped in plastic,” the statement said, adding that bags actually contained a powder detergent.

The incident highlighted concerns about the safety of passenger buses plying the Rangoon-Mandalay highway, which were already in the spotlight on Wednesday after the Ministry of Construction released statistics on speeding violations by bus drivers.

According to the ministry, there were a total of 1,218 speeding violations recorded on the highway in April, including 77 by the worst offender, the Mann Yazar Express bus line. The company was followed by Shwe Lashio, with 68 violations; Tun Ayar, with 65; and Wai Phyo Aung, with 61.

All of the 74 bus companies operating on the highway had at least one violations, ministry figures showed.

As part of an effort to reduce accidents on the highway — dubbed the “Death Highway” for its high rate of fatal accidents — passenger buses have been fitted with telematic devices to monitor their speed from the Traffic Information Centre. Buses that went over the limit for more than 10 minutes were warned by phone to slow down.

Ministry officials said the warning system has proved effective in cutting the number of collisions on the highway.