Burma army soldiers extort money from miners in Hpakant

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Troops from Burma's military stationed in Hpakant in western Kachin state routinely extort money from civilian miners, jade traders and miners tell the Kachin News Group (KNG).

At present troops from battalions under the military's Light Infantry Division No. 101 are stationed in the Hpakant jade district. It is standard practice for them to extort 300,000 Kyat (US$300) from each miner they catch in the mining pits, said Zau Awng, a civilian jade trader based in Hpakant.

Currently there are thousands of miners toiling away in Hpakant using very basic equipment. The workforce come from throughout Burma and includes Arakanese, Shan, Burman, Kachin and Karen, local miners tell KNG.

“Every day they (soldiers) detain people and demand cash but the extortionist battalion is changing. Detainees who cannot pay the cash are now brought to military bases and held until cash is given for their release,” Zau Awng said.

Every day, a car with four or five soldiers arrives at a mining area and the troops harass the jade workers. Those who do not have cash, are punished by forcing them to sit in the sunlight for several hours and beating them with sticks, Zau Awng says. A description backed up by others who have visited Hpakant.

The Burma army’s extortion racket has expanded significantly in Hpakant since the Kachin Independence Army's (KIA) Battalion 6 was forced withdrew from much of Hpakant in early 2013.

In May 2012, Burmese military authorities shut down the operations of most of the big firms in Hpakant because the KIA's political wing the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) had resumed taxing the jade industry. Soon after the withdrawal of the big firms, many small scale miners were encouraged to operate in the areas abandoned by the big firms.

Much of the large scale mining operations that use heavy equipment and machines have reduced operations or stopped completely after a 17 year ceasefire between the KIO and Burma's central government ended in June 2011.

Even though the jade mines in Hpakant are one of the largest sources of revenue for Burma's central government, most of the funds earned in Hpakant are believed to end up in the pockets of well-connected Burmese businessmen and the country's military elite. The wife of retired Snr Gen. Than Shwe, Daw Kyaing Kyaing, owns stakes in several of Hpakant's jade mines as does the military connected millionaire Zaw Zaw.

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