Gems in Burma

Gemstones in Burma

Who buys Burma's gems? It is the last moment of the last trading session of the Rangoon gemstone auctions, and exhausted shoppers fan out with exhausted auctions catalogues and place their last auctions. In the last five and a half years, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. has received almost 150 million dollars in the form of jades, stones and saphires.

The syndicate that is dominating the gem trading in Burma and is held by the Department of Defence and a number of army officials. China, India, Singapore and Thailand are digging up Burma's rocks. The American First Lady Laura Bush's attempts to have a worldwide blacking out of Burma's gems seem to have done little to curb China's craving for Myanmar jewelry and summer Olympics memorabilia.

According to the state paper New Light of Myanmar, 281 aliens took part in this latest sale, which left behind the urgently needed international money and made the sale a huge hit. She has taken over the Burmese army government in Myanmar, pushing jewellers not to buy gems from a land where non-democratic leaders and their pals sell the country's rocks and many other Burmese physical assets - mineral, wood, solid wood, mineral, oil und methane - but keep Burmese people in dire povernour.

It has pushed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to take stronger action against Burma and assisted President Bush on several separate occasion as he proclaimed the increasing US sanction agenda against the state. And on International Human Rights day last December, Mrs Bush added her vote to those who want to see a worldwide blacking out of Burmese gems.

"Burma's global consumer needs to consider the impact of buying Myanmar gems," she said in a White House declaration. "Each and every Myanmar rock that is purchased, ground, polished and selling maintains an illegal, oppressive state. "According to Human Right's Watch (HRW), Burma's military tribe has a controlling interest in every mine in the state - many of them in rural areas seized by community leaders - and sanctions both insecure working practices and coercive and child labour.

In November, the European Union adopted an import ban on Burma's ruby and Java, Canada and the US Senate followed in December. Concerned about being associated with the junta's practice, some of the world's greatest gem-setters - among them Frances' Cartier, Italy's Bulgari, US-based Tiffany & Co. and Leber Jeweler Inc.

According to New Light of Myanmar, 600 batches of Java were auctioned in Rangoon in January - a third more than at the last one in November. According to some estimations, today alone Java represents about 10 per cent of Burma's annual exports. Ruby, on the other hand, remains Burma's jewel of selection; the nation is reported to be the main supplier of almost 90 per cent of the world's population.

Burma also exported diamond, cat's eye, emerald, topaz, pearl, sapphire, reefs, corals and yellowspeel. Myanmar Gm Enterprise of the Burmese Governments - Burma's third biggest exporter after the state owned petroleum and wood firms - has said that precious stone deliveries have risen by 45 per cent every year in the last three years. Overall, Burmese gemstone trading was officially assessed at $297 million in the 2006-2007 financial year, according to the HRW, but it is actually much higher considering the informal selling.

What made the West's penalties against Burma's gems - and the country's other commodities - ineffective after so many years? "But the only penalties that would work would be Chinese," explains Robert Rotberg, Associate Professor of Civil Liberties at Harvard University's Kennedy School. "and a large part of the investments.

" And although gems are clearly part of the issue, Mr Rotberg emphasises, they are only the tip of the mountain of ice. "Precious stones don't play a big part.... in comparison to the use of crude oils and gases and opium trafficking," he says. China, Thailand and India are expected to invest a total of about 2 billion dollars annually in power, methane, oil and wood.

"The perpetrator is China," says Thailand's Nazi and Burmese writer Akharn Sulak Sarvaraksa. "Myanmar is backed by China. Not only must we free this land from its own army juntas, but also from the Chinese imperialists. "There is increasing tension on China - and to a lesser degree on India and Thailand - to play a more positive part in Burma.

"It' s in all our interests to tackle the bad government that can lead to conflicts and instability," UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said to Beijing élite university Beijing during a visit to China last months. "There will be cases of exerting pressures if the impetus for world involvement does not work," he said.

"Myanmar is on your line. As you know it well," he sketched out Britain's opinion that Burma's army regime is "brutal. "In a December conference call to China, President Bush and I call on all countries - especially Burma's neighbours - to use their leverage to achieve a process of democracy," she said.

Recently, several Burmaese groups on behalf of humanitarian and political parties have started to link China's Burma policies to the forthcoming Olympic Winter Olympics - a particularly undesirable trend for Beijing. Burma's 88 Generation Youth appealed two week ago not to follow the sporting event on TV, and the Washington-based US Campaign for Burma has asked the contestants to boyscott the game.

The link between Burma's politics and the Olympic Games would be "inappropriate and unpopular," Liu Jingmin, deputy chairman of the Beijing Olympic Games organising body, replied at a October newsroom. However, whether or not it is the spectre of the Burma question that is developing into a rally call on a similar scale as the Beijing Olympics and China in Sudanese Darfur - such pressures seem to be having an impact on China.

Although there are no indications that China will impose sanctions on Burma or even drastically alter its fundamental working relations with the Burmese - China is known to be reluctant to interfere in the domestic business of another state - there are nevertheless small indications that Beijing's endurance with the next generation militias is diminishing and a possible political transition is possible.

"We' re sensing China's change of attitude," says U Han Than, a spokesperson for Burma's National League for Democracy (NLD) party. "We' ve just received word that high-ranking China officers have been here telling the army commanders that they were not upset. "China's State Intelligence reported in November that a specially appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Burma and asked the army "to consult to solve the outstanding questions in order to accelerate the democratisation process".

" "In Rangoon, China is trying to be more constructive," says a West German politician, who speaks on an anonymous basis.

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