NAYPYITAW — Two high-ranking military officers have been transferred to the military’s auxiliary force for taking bribes from jade mines operating without a license in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township.
The officers took bribes from jade mining companies and allowed them to continue operating with expired licenses.
In 2016, the government announced that it would not renew the licenses of jade mining companies until it completed an environmental management plan for jade mining areas in Kachin State. Almost all the licenses expired this year.
According to a local lawmaker and an auxiliary force list produced by the Office of the Military Appointments General dated Sunday and seen by The Irrawaddy, the two officers were investigated for taking bribes and suspended: Major-General Nyi Nyi Swe, head of the Southwestern Command and former head of the Northern Command; and Brigadier-General Maung Maung Zan, the commander of Division 101, based in Hpakant.
Brig-Gen Maung Maung Zan took 25 percent of the profits from mining companies and allowed them to continue operating without valid licenses, passing on a cut to Maj-Gen Nyi Nyi Swe, his superior, Hpakant Township lawmaker U Tin Soe told The Irrawaddy.
“Locals told me that mining companies whose licenses had expired were continuing their operations. I investigated and found that the division commander was taking bribes, millions of kyats. So I reported it to the minister of resources and environmental conservation during the previous parliamentary session,” he said.
According to a 2015 Global Witness report, “Jade: Myanmar’s Big State Secret,” jade production in Myanmar may have been worth as much as $31 billion in 2014 alone, equal to nearly half the country’s GDP.
Myanmar’s vast jade trade is secretly controlled by networks of military elites, drug lords and crony companies associated with the military, the report says.
It describes jade mining as a significant driver of Myanmar’s most serious armed conflict, between the central government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The report says the industry generates funds for both sides in a war that has claimed thousands of lives and seen 100,000 people displaced since it reignited in 2011.
The government has stepped up its anti-corruption efforts since a new president was elected by Parliament in April. Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Commission recently said it was handling 18 cases of bribery and corruption. But it is not yet clear if the Hpakant case will be transferred to the commission as well.
U Tin Soe claimed that the Division 101 commander has overall authority in Hpakant and exercises considerable influence over the executive branch.
“The head of the [township’s] General Administration Department is lower in rank and therefore has to be afraid of the division commander. At every meeting, the commander interferes with administrative functions. It seems that his signature is needed for any permit in the region,” the lawmaker said.
The civilian administration was stronger before 2012, but military officials have since gained influence because of the fighting with the KIA.
“They [the military] are responsible for protecting citizens according to the 2008 Constitution. But now they are protecting the Chinese and cronies. Locals and ethnic people can’t approach the big mines. Kachin and local ethnic people are oppressed,” said U Tin Soe.
According to the Office of the Military Appointments General, Maj-Gen Nyi Nyi Swe was demoted to the auxiliary force not only for taking bribes but also because he failed to achieve the military’s objectives in the Tanai operating theater in Kachin State and suffered heavy casualties. He was transferred to the Southwest Command in April.
In addition, the Division 101 deputy commander, Colonel Win Tin Soe, and tactical commander, Hlaing Win, were also transferred to the auxiliary force over the failure of their military operations.
Another senior military officer transferred to the auxiliary force was Brigadier-General Than Oo, the commander of Division 99, who was responsible for killings during counter-insurgency operations in Rakhine State. It followed the UN Security Council’s urging of the Myanmar government to take action against the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings in Rakhine.
The Irrawaddy was not able to obtain comment from the military’s True News Information Committee about the transfers.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.