Burma’s Jade War Continues…

Mi24The conflict in resource-rich Kachin state between government troops hoping to secure control over the vast jadeite resources and the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization persists, despite calls for an end to the bloodshed. Even the country’s president, Thein Sein last month voiced support for a ceasefire, but those calls were promptly ignored by Burma’s military who, some believe, may be beyond the direct control of the president’s authority. Tentative peace talks between the military and the KIA began this week, but it remains to be seen where these negotiations will lead. In December, the Burmese military upped the stakes and began a massive offensive using Chinese-built JL-8 fighter jets, Russian-built Mi-35 attack helicopters, as well as heavy artillery in an effort to wipe out remaining resistance. The Burmese military claims this offensive was launched for “self-defense” purposes.

The Kachin, who have been fighting for nearly 50 years for greater autonomy and are a Christian-majority population in Buddhist-majority Burma, have repeatedly refused to sign a ceasefire deal until a political agreement is made with the Burmese government. It is the only ethnic group that has not yet signed a peace deal with Thein Sein’s administration.

Human rights groups say nearly 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, with an unknown number of casualties. Kachin state in Burma is the source for virtually all the world’s fine quality jade as well as a wide range of valuable natural resources, making the area ripe for exploitation as western companies begin eyeing the country as the next untapped frontier. Recent widespread looting of jade abandoned by small-scale independent miners fleeing the violence highlights the fact that gems like Burma’s conflict jade continues to play a role in fueling ongoing violence and unrest in an increasingly complex and ever-evolving Burma.