Myanmar military ‘tightens grip’ on multibillion jade commerce: Report

Myanmar’s army has additional tightened its grip on the nation’s jade commerce, utilizing the trade to finance the February 1 coup that plunged the nation into turmoil, a brand new report launched on Tuesday says, naming the son of military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as amongst those that straight profited from the enterprise.

Global Witness mentioned corruption inside the nation’s jade sector “reaches into the very prime ranks of the army”, and the February 1 coup had solely enhanced its ties to the multibillion-dollar trade whose enterprise principally goes to China.

“Our revelations in regards to the army’s elevated management of the multibillion-dollar jade commerce is emblematic of the Tatmadaw’s broader seize of precious sectors of the nation’s economic system, which funds their abuses, fuels battle and helped allow their latest unlawful energy seize,” mentioned Keel Dietz, Myanmar coverage adviser on the watchdog, which exposes hyperlinks between human rights abuses and the atmosphere.

The report warned that the coup might flip the jade trade right into a “slush fund” for the army and source of political patronage to prop up the army regime, except sanctions and different types of punitive measures are taken.

With an estimated power of greater than 400,000, Myanmar’s army, also called Tatmadaw, has been probably the most influential political participant within the nation since its independence in 1948. Except for transient intervals of democratic management, the generals have ruled the nation for many years.

For years, the army has additionally been accused of committing atrocities in opposition to its personal folks, together with the 2017 violence on the Rohingya that pressured a whole bunch of 1000’s of the principally Muslim minority group to flee to Bangladesh. The United Nations and rights teams have described the assault as constituting struggle crimes and crimes in opposition to humanity.

More just lately, it resumed a separate armed conflict with ethnic rebels starting in early 2020 displacing tens of 1000’s extra folks internally, earlier than it snatched energy from the elected National League for Democracy (NLD) authorities of Aung San Suu Kyi in February.

Since the coup, it has launched a crackdown in opposition to opposition politicians and activists in addition to widespread folks protesting in opposition to the ability seize. According to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), state forces have already killed 883 folks, whereas about 5,000 others have been arrested or sentenced.

The coup solely aggravated the nexus of corruption and violence that marks the army’s function within the jade trade, the report mentioned. It warned that the takeover might “additional open the floodgates of army corruption” and plunge the jade mining area “additional into lawlessness”, whereas additionally enriching army officers and their households.

Sons of generals

The 2021 Global Witness report additional develops an earlier 2015 expose, during which it first established the hyperlinks of a variety of senior generals to the trade. Among the businesses nonetheless energetic within the jade commerce is Kyaing International Gems, which is partly owned by the son of General Than Shwe, the strongman who ruled Myanmar for nearly 20 years till 2011.

In the newest report, General Min Aung Hlaing’s son, Aung Pyae Sone, has additionally been discovered to be concerned within the trade, Dietz, the creator of the investigation, advised Al Jazeera in a separate interview.

Miners seek for jade in Hpakant, the nation’s hub of jade mining in Kachin state [File: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters]

Dietz mentioned Aung Pyae Sone performs a task within the army’s management of dynamite imports into Hpakant, the guts of the jade mining trade in Myanmar.

The use of dynamite is important for extracting jade, as the present type of mechanised mining entails blasting open big pit mines utilizing the explosive earlier than machines are despatched in to choose via the rubble.

“The Tatmadaw controls the principle routes into Hpakant, so dynamite merchants should pay a bribe to the Northern Commander for permission” to move the explosive cargo, Dietz mentioned.

“The Northern Commander then pays these bribes upward to Aung Pyae Sone,” he mentioned of the very best army commander’s son, a Myanmar business tycoon who was just lately positioned underneath US sanctions alongside his sister, Khin Thiri Thet Mon.

Dietz mentioned the involvement of Min Aung Hlaing’s household within the jade trade could not come as a shock “however it speaks to the best way during which this profitable trade has helped maintain the ability and affect of army elites and perpetuated battle throughout the nation, even because the NLD tried to reform the trade”.

“Min Aung Hlaing is a person who has presided over a few of the worst crimes in opposition to humanity the world has seen in recent times, and now he has led a coup that has plunged Myanmar right into a disaster that dangers returning the nation to the darkest days of army rule,” Dietz mentioned.

Resisting reform

For years, army officers, in addition to corporations they managed and their enterprise allies, have been ignoring licensing guidelines within the nation, persevering with to function whereas resisting efforts by the just lately eliminated civilian authorities of Aung San Suu Kyi to implement reforms.

In 2016, the NLD suspended all new jade licensing, promising adjustments within the troubled sector.

At that point, the army conglomerate Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) was the one largest jade and gemstone mining permit-holder. The firm, which managed 1,100 energetic permits at the moment, acquired 639 of them through the first few months of 2016 in a “frantic useful resource seize” simply earlier than the NLD formally took energy.

But even with the suspension of latest licences, abuses inside the system lingered, permitting the trade to proceed working inside an “ill-defined and underenforced” authorized framework, the report mentioned.

Instead of loosening the army’s grip, the foundations solely paved the best way for the army to take management of Myanmar’s jade mines even through the 5 years of civilian management.

And now that the army is totally again in energy, any chance for actual reform within the near-term “is now dead”, Global Witness mentioned.

Among the businesses recognized as a part of the MEHL conglomerate are Myanmar Ruby Enterprise, Myanmar Imperial Jade Co Ltd, and Cancri (Gems and Jewellery) Co Ltd. Shortly after the army coup, the US imposed sanctions on the three corporations.

Shrouded in secrecy

Until just lately, the extent of the army’s involvement within the jade mining trade was shrouded in secrecy, Myanmar activist and poet Me Me Khant advised Al Jazeera.

Since the Global Witness report in 2015, there was extra consciousness of the “exploitations within the jade sector”, she mentioned.

“The human value of the army’s profiteering within the jade sector is immense. Hundreds die every year from landslides due to corruption, lack of regulation, and easily lawless exploitation,” Me Me Khant mentioned, citing for example the 2020 landslide that killed about 175 miners in Hpakant.

There have additionally been different issues reported, together with drug dependancy and prevalence of HIV/AIDS among the many miners, she added.


Dump vehicles loaded with soil on the Hpakant jade mine at Kachin state, November 26, 2015 [File: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters]

‘Trade in arms’

While Myanmar’s army dominates the jade trade, the Global Witness investigation additionally discovered {that a} rising variety of ethnic armed teams and militias are additionally concerned within the commerce.

Those concerned included the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/A), the United Wa State Party/Army (UWSP/A) – the ethnic teams’ political events and their armed wings – in addition to the Arakan Army (AA), it mentioned.

“The Tatmadaw, armed militias, and ethnic armed teams such because the KIA, UWSA and AA actually discovered widespread floor to dig up jade ever quicker and extra destructively, at the same time as they had been in battle elsewhere within the nation,” mentioned Dietz.

“Bitter foes stepped up their cooperation with Myanmar’s army to extract as a lot jade as they may earlier than licences expired, at instances teaming as much as mine collectively illegally in expired plots.”

Jade cash from Hpakant is then channelled into the commerce in arms, heightening violent battle in northern Myanmar, the report discovered.

The UWSA has been notably recognized as fulfilling a part of its jade-related tax obligations to the KIA “by offering weapons produced in its personal factories”, and the KIA then promoting the weapons to the AA, the report mentioned.

United Wa State Army, pictured, has been recognized as fulfilling a part of its jade-related tax obligations to the Kachin Independence Army by offering weapons produced in its personal factories, and the KIA then promoting the weapons to the Arakan Army [File: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters]

The AA additionally cooperated with the KIA to gather jade funds to assist its struggle in opposition to the army in Rakhine and Chin states, the report mentioned.

No clear proof has been discovered, nonetheless, that exhibits the Myanmar army is utilizing jade cash to additionally straight purchase weapons, Dietz advised Al Jazeera.

“But in the long run all cash is fungible.”

‘Highly illicit’

In its newest investigation, Global Witness estimated that as much as 90 % of Myanmar’s jade is smuggled in another country, nearly all into China, “underscoring the extremely illicit nature of the trade”.

An estimated 50 to 80 % of jade was smuggled earlier than the licensing suspension, with the transactions achieved with out ever getting into the formal system in Myanmar.

“Kachin State’s sources have thus been plundered, with little of the profit going to the Kachin folks or the state, the place jade revenues might be used to assist essential wants like health care and education,” the report mentioned.

As a citizen of Myanmar combating the nation’s army rulers, activist Me Me Khant urged the worldwide neighborhood to impose sanctions on the highest army chief and the businesses concerned within the jade and different gem mining trade.

She additionally urged the worldwide neighborhood to steer China to ditch the jade commerce with Myanmar.

“There must be huge public consciousness campaigns achieved across the concern to discourage shoppers, particularly these inside China,” she mentioned.

But so long as the army dictatorship is there, the likelihood of reducing the unlawful jade commerce wouldn’t be potential, mentioned Dietz of Global Witness.

“The precedence for the worldwide neighborhood proper now ought to be bringing an finish to the coup and serving to guarantee a democratic and bonafide authorities is returned to energy,” he mentioned.

Global Witness can also be calling on the worldwide neighborhood to instantly ban the import of all jade and gem stones mined in Myanmar.

In the long run, the worldwide neighborhood should assist a future reputable authorities in eradicating the army and different armed teams from the jade trade, putting pure useful resource governance on the coronary heart of peace talks.

“There shall be no peace or democracy so long as males with weapons management the huge wealth generated by one among Myanmar’s biggest pure treasures,” Dietz mentioned.

Source: Al Jazeera

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *