Protest against Hkamti jade prospec­tor ar­rests planned

The Myanmar Times - - News - MAUNG ZAW maungzaw@mm­times.com

A PROTEST against the ar­rests of a num­ber of jade prospec­tors will be staged in Hkamti town­ship, Sa­gaing Re­gion, fol­low­ing a gov­ern­ment crack­down in the re­gion that be­gan on Septem­ber 17.

Small-scale jade prospec­tors in Hkamti town­ship make their liv­ing by trav­el­ling to the nearby Nan Si Pon jade- and gold-min­ing re­gion, where they search for the pre­cious stones by hand among the rub­ble of mine sites.

Over the past few days, a num­ber of these prospec­tors have been ar­rested on their re­turn to Hkamti town­ship, with au­thor­i­ties de­tain­ing them for not hav­ing paid tax on the min­eral booty in their pos­ses­sion.

The prob­lem with this, ac­cord­ing to protest or­gan­is­ers, is that there is no way for the prospec­tors to pay the re­quired tax be­fore they are be­ing ar­rested.

Cur­rently there is no gems of­fice where prospec­tors might pay tax on the stones they find in the Nan Si Pon jade and gold re­gion. They must re­turn to Hkamti town­ship to do so.

The ar­rests have been tak­ing place at Hkamti Port as prospec­tors re­turn to town from Nan Si Pon.

“We agree that those found with il­le­gal gem­stones should be ar­rested. But the way the au­thor­i­ties are deal­ing with this is wrong,” said protest or­gan­iser Ko Aung San Myint. “Why not ar­rest peo­ple who haven’t paid tax as they leave Hkamti to sell their stones, in­stead of ar­rest­ing peo­ple who are re­turn­ing from work in Nan Si Pon? Cur­rently, those re­turn­ing from Nan Si Pon in or­der to pay tax could be ar­rested.”

More than 5000 peo­ple are ex­pected to at­tend the Septem­ber 26 protest, he added.

The protest move­ment is be­ing fu­elled by con­cerns that the gov­ern­ment’s cur­rent con­duct will se­ri­ously dam­age the liveli­hoods of the many prospec­tors liv­ing in the town­ship.

Ko Thein Oo, a lo­cal prospec­tor, feared the crack­down would im­pact his abil­ity to make a liv­ing and of­fered an al­ter­na­tive strat­egy for putting an end to il­le­gal smug­gling of the re­gion’s pre­cious min­er­als.

“It’s easy to le­git­i­mately ar­rest peo­ple for not pay­ing taxes on gem­stones: Es­tab­lish a gems of­fice in Nan Si Pon so peo­ple can pay taxes there, then con­duct searches at the port to see whether peo­ple have paid tax or not when they re­turn from Nan Si Pon to Hkamti,” he said. “If they haven’t paid tax, ar­rest them on the spot. That’s why we are ar­rang­ing this demon­stra­tion – so that the gov­ern­ment knows about this.”

The ar­rests of the prospec­tors come in the wake of dis­putes be­tween them and com­pa­nies who have li­cences to mine for gem­stones in the area. The com­pa­nies had com­plained that the prospec­tors were un­li­censed and threat­ened to sue them for tres­pass.

When asked for com­ment on the re­cent de­ten­tions, Hkamti dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tor U Zaw Zaw said the ar­rests were not in­tended to tar­get jade prospec­tors per se.

“The ar­rests are only tar­geted at those who didn’t pay tax, not jade prospec­tors. But we will ar­rest any­one found in pos­ses­sion of gems with­out pay­ing tax,” he said.

– Trans­la­tion by Zar Zar Soe

Photo: Than Naing Soe

A vis­i­tor takes a pic­ture of gem min­ing in Nan Si Pon, Hkamti town­ship.

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