Speaker calls off crackdown on jade pickers
THE upper house Speaker is calling for a more lax handling of itinerant jade scavengers after a spate of recent arrests led to public outcry and protests.
Mahn Win Khaing Than sent a letter over the weekend to the Sagaing Region government, suggesting that they ease off a law that led to the controversial arrest of seven jade prospectors in Hkamti township last month.
The Speaker sent the letter on the urging of the Amyotha Hluttaw Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Committee, according to committee chair U Kyaw Thiha (NLD; Mandalay 12).
On September 26, more than 2000 people in Hkamti protested the crackdown on jade scavengers, claiming that the laws could jeopardise the livelihood of a substantial number of the residents.
Under the current Myanmar Gemstones Law, aside from licensed companies, anyone found in possession of raw gemstones may be sentenced to a maximum 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.
“We recommended they find a solution convenient for both sides,” U Kyaw Thiha said. “We sent the committee’s findings relating to the arrest of jade scavengers to the Amyotha Hluttaw Speaker. He sent them along to the Sagaing Region government on October 7.”
The letter makes suggestions for a potential third amendment to the Myanmar Gemstone Law, which was last updated in January. The committee agreed that arresting jade prospectors could lead to undesirable consequences, and recommended liberalising the law to benefit local people.
“We found that the Sagaing Region government is overstepping its boundaries in arresting jade scavengers,” said MP U Aung Than Sein (NLD; Hkamti). “Then, relevant MPs did not know about the arrest. They found out about it only when the problem occurred.”
The arrests were conducted September 17 to 19, following a government crackdown on people found in possession of illegal gemstones. The move of authorities checking and arresting jade prospectors in the entrance of Hkamti who come back home from Nansipun jade and gold mining area commencing September 17 could lead to job scarcity for locals.
“While trying to amend the Gemstone Law in the Amyotha Hluttaw, these kinds of arrest could lead to problems,” said Nyi Nyi Htwe (NLD; Sagaing 11). “Locals have to make their living prospecting jade in Nansipun. We should not neglect that.”
– Translation by Thiri Min Htun