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Myanmar army tightens grip on lucrative jade sector

Myanmar generates about 70% of the world’s jade, worth billions of dollars and destined mostly to neighbouring China. (Stock image)

Myanmar’s military has further tightened its grip on the country’s jade trade, using the industry to finance the February 1 coup that plunged the country into turmoil, a new report released Tuesday shows.

According to human rights organization Global Witness, the military junta (Tatmadaw) is now in charge of the multibillion-dollar industry whose business mostly goes to China, as it is in charge of handing out jade mining permits.

The investigation, which builds on a landmark 2015 report, alleges the family of coup-leader and commander of the armed forces, General Min Aung Hlaing, profited from bribes as corruption in the jade industry worsened in recent years.

“Our revelations about the military’s increased control of the multibillion-dollar jade trade is emblematic of the Tatmadaw’s broader capture of valuable sectors of the country’s economy, which funds their abuses, fuels conflict and helped enable their recent illegal power grab,” Keel Dietz, Myanmar policy advisor at Global Witness and author of the report, said in a statement.

“The military has such strong control over the country’s jade trade that it would be “nearly impossible” to buy the gemstones without enriching the generals and their allies.”

The coup has destabilized the sector further, the investigation shows, triggering renewed fighting in jade mining areas. The report also found that jade money was being directly channelled into the arms trade between several ethnic armed groups, fueling conflict in the country’s north.

“The military has such strong control over the country’s jade trade that it would be “nearly impossible” to buy the gemstones without enriching the generals and their allies”

Global Witness

The report looks specifically at the role played by the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/A), the United Wa State Party/Army (UWSP/A), and the Arakan Army (AA). The latter has emerged as a significant new player in the jade sector in recent years, according to the research.

It paints a picture of a lawless land where “men with guns” rule over a haven of dangerous, illicit, and corrupt activities and impose a “climate of fear and violence” over a region ravaged by war and fueled by the green gemstone.

Myanmar accounts for about 70% of the world’s jade production. Before the coup and covid-19, up to 500,000 artisanal miners, known locally as yemase, traveled to Kachin state’s Hpakant every year to seek their fortunes in the mines.

Jade miners work under extremely dangerous conditions, particularly those who pick through churned up material from large-scale machinery on unstable hillsides. So accidents and landslides are, unfortunately, quite common.

Global Witness and other non-profits dedicated to investigating corruption and environmental abuse, are demanding stronger sanctions for Myanmar’s military.

“It is up to the international community to limit the amount of funding the military can receive from selling Myanmar’s natural resources by preventing the import of those resources and blocking financial transactions that pay for them,” the report concludes.

Learn more in the following video: