Protest against Hkamti jade prospector arrests planned
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
A visitor takes a picture of gem mining in Nan Si Pon, Hkamti township.