HPAKANT, Burma — Despite being engaged in a major armed conflict with the Burmese military, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) officially opened a jade field for mining yesterday in Kachin state Hpakant township.
The opening of the Pangma Sut Chyai Maw field was marked by a traditional Chinese ceremony in which more 500 people attended including businessmen, jade miners and merchants. The field is located in territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Army's Sixth battalion and is situated near the upper Uru River.
The jade field will be open for the general public and local artisanal miners rather than large-scale jade firms, said Captain Maji Naw Rin, head of the sixth battalion's Jade Mine Management Committee.
The KIO decided to open the field because local miners are unable to get to their usual jade mining locations due to the ongoing conflict between the KIO and Burma's central government, said Naw Rin.
During the opening ceremony the KIO announced that it will grant each miner a jade plot for a fee of 500,000 Kyat (US$649).
The KIO resumed taxing the jade industry last year following the end of a 17 year ceasefire with the central government. Prior to the 1994 ceasefire, the KIO used royalties from the jade industry to transform itself into Burma's second strongest armed ethnic group, a position it still holds today.
According to jade merchants familiar with the Pangma Sut Chyai Maw field, prior to the official opening yesterday, various types of jade stones mined in the field have already been auctioned at the government's jade emporium in Rangoon and Naypyitaw over the past few years.
On January 4, all major roads connecting the Hpakant (also Hpakan) jade region were closed for civilian travel by the KIA Sixth Battalion after the Burmese army launched attacks in the area. Most of the roads were reopened on January 13 however travel in the area remains dangerous.
According to official figures from 2010-2011, Burma's central government earned $2.2 billion from taxing the jade industry, one of the highest annual sources of revenue for the government. Much of the jade sold at the Burmese government's official jade sales comes from the Hpakant jade region.