Burmese troops scramble to protect 50-tonne jade boulder

Trade in the gem is worth around 15% of the country's GDP – but the industry is mired in controversy and allegations of corruption

Troops have been dispatched to secure and protect a huge jade boulder discovered in the north of Burma by a small-time prospector. The boulder may weigh anything up to 50 tonnes.

Reports said the boulder, part of which remains trapped in the earth, was found around ten days ago by the miner in the Hpakant region of Kachin state, the heart of Burma’s gem trade. Once word got out, troops went to secure the boulder.

“It’s being guarded by soldiers,” minister Lajun Ngan Seng told the Associated Press. He said efforts would be made to completely unearth the piece of jade, which officials believe may be 18ft in length. “Then, we’ll decide what to do with it.”

Burma is one the world’s largest producers of jade and the majority of it comes from the far north of Burma. An analysis carried out last year by Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, suggested the trade was worth up to £4.8bn, or around 15 per cent of the country’s GDP.

But the gem trade is mired in controversy. Most of the business remains controlled by senior military officials or their cronies, a number of them Chinese businessman, and the best of the gems are usually smuggled to China. Many of the miners who flock to  Hpakant with the dream of striking it rich live in wretched conditions and are often addicted to heroin.

“This is an area where the Burmese army has been very active, showing how they are trying to secure strategic locations where there are natural resources,” said Mark Farmaner, of the Burma Campaign UK.

While Western nations have suspended most sanctions against Burma since President Thein Sein released the majority of political prisoners and embarked on a transition towards greater democracy three years ago, the prohibition on the trade of gems remains in place.


The situation is made more precarious difficult because of its location in Kachin state, where ethnic rebels have been involved in an insurgency against the central government since Burma won its independence in 1948.

Hpakant, located 220 miles north of the city of Mandalay, has been closed off to large miners since 2011 because of renewed fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army. But individual miners, sometimes working with just their hands, have carried on prospecting.

Reports said it was one such prospector, a man called Aung Naing Win, who discovered the boulder in the village of Wei Kan, 15 miles from the town of Hpakant. He has reportedly been detained by troops, who said they were concerned about his safety.

The troops dispatched to secure the boulder belonged to the Light Infantry Division 101. They have prevented access to the area and have stopped villagers from prospecting close to the site. This has created hardship for those who depend upon the jade mines for their livelihoods.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Professional Services Firm - Oxford

£21000 - £24000 per annum + 21 days holidays: Ashdown Group: Technical Support...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor