The military takeover in Myanmar has given the junta full control of the country’s lucrative and conflict-ridden jade mining, providing it with profits and leverage for consolidating power, researchers said Tuesday.
A flareup in fighting around the mines in Hpakant, in remote Kachin state, also is adding to instability in the border region, independent research group Global Witness said in its report.
Army and ethnic guerrilla forces have been fighting in Kachin for years. But they had largely cooperated to share in profits from mining of the world’s richest jade deposits, making the industry a hotbed for corruption instead of a national asset that could be invested for the public good.
Global Witness estimates the annual losses in the tens of millions of dollars.
It and other experts say the Feb. 1 coup has disrupted the de facto ceasefire that had held around the mines, with fighting breaking out even in the jade-producing zone.
“It’s an extremely unstable situation where the rule of law is just completely broken down,” Keel Dietz, one of the report’s authors, said.
The civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi made halting progress in cleaning up the industry after taking power in 2016. It suspended issuing or renewing jade mining permits. A new law restricts licenses to a maximum of three years, adding to the incentive to mine illicitly and as quickly as possible.
Now the military, known as the Tatmadaw, controls who can mine and who can’t and can dole out licenses to buy loyalty and try to splinter rival groups, Dietz said.
Global Witness and other groups are calling for stronger sanctions against the junta to help counter what has become a free-for-all rush to dig out as much of the precious stone as possible.
“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 says.In an earlier report, Global Witness documented how the industry is dominated by networks of military elites, drug lords and crony companies. The situation has barely changed, those familiar with the region say.