Last month senior Burma army commanders in Kachin state ordered that all jade mining equipment and machinery used in the Hpakant (also Hpakan) area be shipped back before the end of the month.
Since the Kachin conflict began last year the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has increased its presence in the Hpakant area home to the world's best source of jade. The end of the 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and the government has also seen the group's political-wing the KIO resume taxing the jade industry in Hpakant.
The orders directed at the jade mining firms come from Maj-Gen Zeyar Aung, head of the Northern Regional Military Command based in Myitkyina, according to company officials who spoke with the Kachin News Group on condition of anonymity.
The order directs that common jade mining equipment including backhoes, drilling machines and dump trucks be shipped back to government controlled towns in southwestern Kachin state or removed completely from the state altogether, according to a source in the jade mining industry.
The Commander’s order does not mean that all jade mining will end in the Hpakant area but a lack of equipment will likely slow mining operations significantly. The orders appear to be aimed at preventing the KIO from profiting from the lucrative jade trade. According to sources in the jade industry Maj-Gen Zeyar Aung has accused jade mining firms of strengthening the KIO by paying revolutionary taxes.
Officials with the KIA's Hpakant-based Battalion 6 estimate that there are currently about 200 major jade mining firms operating in the area. The KIA also says that there are at least 1,000 large scale pieces of mining equipment that would fall under the ban.
In late May some mining firms attempted to ship their equipment out of the area along the Hpakant to Mogaung route however much of this equipment was forced to return because KIA soldiers’ refused to allow the equipment to pass, a KIA Battalion 6 official told the Kachin News Group.
The Rangoon-based Voice Weekly Journal reported on Monday that Burma's Ministry of Mines, issued a notification calling for the suspension of jade mining in the Hpakanat area for safety reasons. The Ministry of Mines announcement appears to have been made after the army already announced the suspension.
Prior to the 1994 ceasefire agreement taxes generated from jade mining in the Hpakant area were one of the largest sources of revenue for the KIO. The jade industry remains one of the largest sources of revenue for Burma's central government.