Protest staged over jade prospec­tor ar­rests in Hkamti

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

MORE than 2000 peo­ple protested the ar­rests of seven jade prospec­tors this week in Hkamti town­ship, Sa­gaing Re­gion, fol­low­ing a gov­ern­ment crack­down on peo­ple found in pos­ses­sion of il­le­gal gem­stones.

“It is not rea­son­able to ar­rest peo­ple in this way for hav­ing il­le­gal gem­stones. If they want to ar­rest peo­ple on these charges, they should ar­rest ev­ery­one in Hkamti and gem­stone traders across Myan­mar,” said U Aung San Myint, who led the Septem­ber 26 demon­stra­tion.

“Ac­cord­ing to the cur­rent law, ev­ery­one should be ar­rested apart from the gem­stone min­ing com­pa­nies. Ar­rest­ing jade scav­engers means de­stroy­ing lo­cal liveli­hoods with­out cre­at­ing other job op­por­tu­ni­ties, so we have to demon­strate,” he added.

This de­sire to pro­tect the liveli­hoods of jade prospec­tors and their fam­i­lies was the rea­son that an­other man, U Soe Naing, also at­tended the demon­stra­tion.

“There are many jade scav­engers in Hkamti as well as in Hpakant [town­ship, in Kachin State]. Many peo­ple Man­dalay gems trader de­pend on them. If they are ar­rested, their fam­i­lies may strug­gle to sur­vive,” he said.

U Soe Naing added, “If the au­thor­i­ties want to ar­rest [jade prospec­tors] in a bid to stop them do­ing this type of work, they need to cre­ate other job op­por­tu­ni­ties for them or ar­range smallscale min­ing busi­ness for them. If not, they will be ar­rest­ing jade scav­engers every day.”

Un­der the cur­rent Myan­mar Gem­stones Law, aside from li­censed com­pa­nies, any­one found in pos­ses­sion of raw gem­stones may be charged un­der sec­tion 42(a) of the leg­is­la­tion, which car­ries a max­i­mum sen­tence of seven years in prison.

Un­der the law, ex­plo­ration li­cences are only granted to large min­ing com­pa­nies for 10-year terms and to medium-sized com­pa­nies for five years. There is cur­rently no pro­vi­sion in the leg­is­la­tion to grant li­cences for small min­ing plots.

“The cur­rent gem­stone law is great for min­ing com­pa­nies. Ac­cord­ing to the law, large and medium ex­plo­ration li­cences can be granted through a ten­der process, but this does not work for peo­ple who are un­able to con­duct large min­ing en­ter­prises. It does not work for peo­ple who make a liv­ing by scav­eng­ing for raw gem­stones,” said U Soe Lwin, a Man­dalay gems trader.

“The cur­rent law should be amended, oth­er­wise or­di­nary lo­cal peo­ple will face dif­fi­cul­ties,” he added.

In April, demon­stra­tions were held in nearby Hpakant town­ship, with par­tic­i­pants call­ing for amend­ments to the gem­stones law that would sup­port jade scav­engers and small-scale prospec­tors.

Demon­stra­tors in the more re­cent Hkamti protests made six de­mands of au­thor­i­ties, which in­cluded the re­lease of the ar­rested jade prospec­tors and, as with the ear­lier Hpakant protests, re­vi­sions to the cur­rent gem­stones law to pro­vide for small-scale min­ing en­ter­prises. – Trans­la­tion by Thiri Min Htun and Win Thaw Tar

‘The cur­rent law should be amended, oth­er­wise or­di­nary lo­cal peo­ple will face dif­fi­cul­ties.’

U Soe Lwin

Photo: Maung Zaw

Pro­test­ers march for ar­rested prospec­tors’ re­lease in Hkamti town­ship, Sa­gaing Re­gion, on Septem­ber 26.

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