Families of Myanmar’s ruling military elite are “major players” in the country’s highly lucrative trade in jade, a report said Friday.
International anti-corruption group Global Witness said relatives of former dictator Than Shwe and other senior government officials were benefitting financially from the sale of jade, which the group estimated at worth some 31 billion dollars in 2014.
This would amount to about half of the country’s official gross domestic product. Official jade exports were worth around 1 billion dollars in the fiscal year 2013-14.
Jade in Myanmar is mostly mined from Kachin state, where it has fuelled years of strife and conflict, Global Witness said.
“Conditions around the mines are often fatally dangerous and drugs and prostitution are endemic, while those who stand in the way of the guns and machines face land grabs, intimidation and violence,” the group said.
Officers in Myanmar’s army stationed in Kachin were running “an elaborate extortion racket,” the report said.
Win Htein, the director general from the Ministry of Mines admitted that vast quantities of jade are sold on the black market, although the official sales route is the biannual jade markets, or emporiums.
“We just hold emporiums twice a year, and it is easier for people to cross the border and sell the jade to China,” he told dpa.
“An armed group can help them do so,” he added, referring to the ethnic rebel group Kachin Independence Army.
Myanmar is set to vote in general elections on November 8, with the military-dominated ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, facing off against the opposition National League for Democracy.
November’s election was an opportunity for the international community to demand reforms of the jade industry, Global Witness said.
“The US is uniquely placed to help take the jade out of the hands of the military, cronies and drug lords,” the group said.
The United States has banned the import of jade from Myanmar.