Myanmar Ruby Mines

Burma Ruby Refills

A fine Siam ruby is only found in rare cases. Myanmar's "Land of the Rubies" treasury search Aye Min Htun is praying every weekend that he will find the ruby that will change his lifestyle, one of tens of thousand scraping through Myanmar's mines to benefit little from the end of US sanctioning the military-dominated industries. The emperor, king and warlord have competed for hundreds of years for power over the Vale of Mogok, just off Mandalay, once known as the "Land of Rubies" for its exceptional treasury of valuable gemstones.

He has the world's most precious gemstones - last year the so-called sunrise ruby was auctioned for a all-time high of $30. Burma is producing more than 80% of the world's jewels, but decadelong insulation under the former reigning junta means the country's industries are still shrouded in shroud.

The US in October abolished the penalties on ruby importation in order to pay tribute to the democratic transformation of the state under the new regime of Aung San Suu Kyi, a political and diplomatic leader. It is feared that any subsequent booming will fill the bags of the army's élite and its buddies, who dominate much of the precious stone world.

The Aye Min Htun makes less than $200 a months working in a small open pit in the bottom of the valleys, but if he finds a precious ruby, his commissions could adjust him for lifetime. "It is my vision to start a company if I am a success in mining," said the 19-year-old to Agence France-Presse during a few visits by reporters to the mines of Mogok.

Since the mid-1990s, Mogok has been ramping up manufacturing when the former regime first permitted privately owned enterprises with heavier machines and more intense workings. The United States in 2003 issued its first round of penalties against the import of precious stones from Myanmar to hunger the state.

Today the Mogok River is full of mines, but the local people see little of the mines. It is supervised by Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE), a state-owned company run by former soldiers and removed from the US sanction register in May. As a result, MGE keeps and controls investment in mines, giving it a powerful grip over a profitable area.

However, analysts believe that much of the true force is Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a vast militarily owned corporation that until recently was even banned by Washington. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative found that the MEC has jointventures in nearly 100 mines in Mogok and another ruby area in Shan State.

In Mogok, many privately owned businesses are also run by Thais and Chinese who, with the help of bogus firms, circumvent legislation that prevents foreign nationals from operating the mines in Myanmar. "Most of the red[rubies] and blue[sapphires] went on the Thai dark market," said Tun Hla Aung, of the Myanmar Gems & Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association.

At the Mandalay tourism centre, traders are confident that the end of US sanctioning will lead to an increase in the number of US consumers who want to buy their goods. "Ruby prices will rise over the next three or six months," said Khine Khine Khine Oo at her stand at the city's gemstone fair, where clients are sifting through small heaps of uncut stone on stands.

US businesses, for their part, are already snooping around. The American Gem Trade Association sent a mission to Mogok to meet with business representatives a few days after the end of the sanctioning process. To curb the unimpeded exploration of man-made stone and Jad in Myanmar, the Myanmar authorities issued a ban on new mine licences in July.

Businesses now have to comply with more stringent environment requirements in order to obtain approvals - but how exactly they are granted is not known. Myanmar San Taw Win Gems' chief clerk Ko Ko Ko Aung, who has about 10 properties in Mogok, said that "most mines are currently loosing money" because the large-scale excavations were over.

But according to Michael Gibb of Global Witness, US purchasers must comply with more stringent global regulations to make sure that mines implement humane working practices and ecological norms. You also need to make sure that the gains do not foment the countless border disputes in Myanmar. "It' s up to US businesses to look into the risk..... to know that there are obvious dangers in a land like Myanmar," he said.

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