Nov 27, 2007
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Myanmar wraps up gem auction amid boycott calls: report

Nov 27, 2007

Merchants inspect gems in Yangon - Photo : Khin Maung Win/AFP
YANGON, Nov 27, 2007 (AFP) - Military-run Myanmar has wrapped up a gem auction, a major money-spinner for the junta, state media said Tuesday, november 27th despite sanctions and calls for a boycott following its deadly crackdown on protests.

A total of 3,618 lots of jade, gems and pearls were sold during the 13-day auction, which ended Monday, the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper said. It did not say how much was earned off the sale.

Poverty-stricken Myanmar is the source of up to 90 percent of the world's rubies, and each auction of precious stones rakes in more than 100 million dollars, making it a key source of revenue for the military regime.

The most expensive jade lot at the auction was worth 80 million euros (120 million dollars), according to state-run Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE), the country's third biggest state enterprise.

The newspaper did not say whether that pricey green stone was sold during the auction, but noted the military government "honoured" the highest bidder of jade lots without giving further details.

The latest gem sales were held as Myanmar faces global pressure over its violent clampdown on peaceful protests which began in August, with the United States and the European Union tightening sanctions aimed at the top generals.

US First Lady Laura Bush urged companies to shun the auction, while top jewellers Tiffany, Cartier and Bulgari said they would refuse to sell Myanmar gems.

But the official paper said more than 3,600 gem merchants, including nearly 2,300 foreigners, had attended the auction despite global calls for a boycott on Myanmar's gems and tightening Western sanctions.

Nearly 90 percent of the foreigners were from jade-crazed China, one of Myanmar's closest allies and a major weapons supplier to the regime, with others from around the world, state media said this month.

China has been widely criticised for not taking tougher action after the crackdown on the mass protests, the biggest challenge to the regime in 20 years.

Myanmar used to hold gem auctions twice a year but has been holding them with increasing frequency in a bid to raise much-needed foreign currency amid tightening sanctions against the junta. It held four auctions in 2006.

Despite the US sanctions, which ban direct imports from Myanmar, the country's gems are cut or polished in third countries, often Thailand, for jewellers, and then shipped to the United States under a legal loophole.

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