Screening Cancelled of Film Showing Army’s Role in Jade Trade

By The Irrawaddy 17 May 2017

RANGOON — The screening of a new documentary showing Burma’s jade industry as a driving force behind the country’s armed conflict was cancelled on Wednesday after Park Royal Hotel in Rangoon announced it did not have permission to show the film.

The documentary Jade and the Generals by NGO Global Witness, released ahead of Burma’s landmark Union Peace Conference (UPC) on May 24, examines how a fair peace deal could see powerful army families and companies losing out on vast profits from jade.

But the Park Royal Hotel, part of the Singapore-based Pan Pacific Hotel Group, provided the following written statement to Global Witness hours before the 1 p.m. screening: “We regret that we are unable to show the video as written permission from the Yangon Regional Government office is required prior to the event.”

Global Witness’ campaign leader Paul Donowitz said the NGO had a “very positive” meeting with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation on Monday in which they screened the film. He added that two officials from the government’s Myanmar Gems Enterprise attended Wednesday’s event.

“I can tell you that the reasons provided by the hotel to Global Witness concerned perceived risks to their business interest associated with screening a film critical of specific powerful military figures,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The hotel’s general manager Jean-Marc Poli, who consulted Pan Pacific Hotel Group’s legal and public relations offices in Singapore before the decision not to air the film, could not be reached for comment.

Kachin State in northern Burma is home to mines that produced jade worth up to US$31 billion in 2014—it is also the site of some of the worst fighting. In July 2016 reformers in the National League for Democracy (NLD) government implemented a suspension of jade licensing.

The film includes testimony from refugees and local leaders calling for an end to the fighting and reform of the trade that is driving it. Influential Kachin leaders and civil society groups are calling for the upcoming UPC to focus on fair, transparent and accountable management and allocation of natural resources in order to forge lasting peace.

“Most of the jade companies are connected to the army. It is very obvious that the army is protecting the jade business and trying to control the land,” said Reverend Samson, the general secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, in an interview in the film.

Global Witness’s latest documentary is a follow-up to its 2015 film titled Jade: Myanmar’s ‘Big State Secret’—a year-long investigation identifying a network of military elites, drug lords, and crony companies who illegally exploit jade for tens of billions of dollars a year.