RANGOON — In northern Burma, where the vast majority of the world’s jade is produced, mining companies will soon be allowed to resume operations, following a two-year hiatus due to armed conflicts.
The Ministry of Mines announced Tuesday that small- and large-scale miners can return September 1 to the resource-rich Kachin State.
Mining operations were suspended in the state in 2012 due to fighting between the government’s military and an ethnic armed group, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). After the suspension, small-scale miners and hand-pickers moved in illegally to try their luck.
The Ministry of Mines said progress had been made recently in peace talks between the government and the KIA, although a bilateral ceasefire remains elusive.
The decision to resume mining operations follows an annual gems emporium in the capital Naypyidaw, which saw fewer lots of jade than previous years. Even so, jade sales surpassed expectations, reaching about US$3.4 billion, compared with $2.6 billion last year.
Trade in the precious stones is controversial because competing claims over mines helped fuel the war between the military and the KIA.
A senior official from the Myanmar Gems Enterprise, under the Ministry of Mines, said that before 2012, about 700 jade mining companies worked in Kachin State’s Hpakant and Lone Khin areas, where most of the jade is sourced.
“Companies whose licenses are still active to explore jade mines can continue their work. Otherwise they need to renew their licenses,” the official told The Irrawaddy.
“Due to the government’s temporary stop on jade mining, the number of jade lots at the annual emporiums in 2013 and 2014 were smaller. I hope that if they are allowed back, there will be not one but two emporiums next year,” he said, adding that the government hoped to sell less raw jade and more value-added jade products in the future.
Khin Lay Myint, vice chairman of the Myanmar Gems and Jewelry Entrepreneurs Association (Mandalay) said she expected the supply of jade to return to normal soon. “We welcome the government’s decision to allow jade miners to resume their work,” she said.
Daw Khar, a resident and jade dealer in Hpakant, said the return of mining companies could end the illegal exploration by hand-pickers.
“Some residents explored in company-owned mines when the companies stopped working. This was not legal, and they will need to stop doing that,” she said.