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November 29, 2007

MYANMAR: Gem Trade
Myanmar Holds Gem Sale Despite Boycott
More than 2,000 foreign buyers flocked to a gem auction in Myanmar, government media said Tuesday, despite international calls for a boycott after military leaders brutally crushed pro-democracy demonstrations. Myanmar produces up to 90 percent of the world's rubies and is a top supplier of other gems and jade. Most merchants at its major gem auctions, which provide crucial revenue for the military regime, come from China and Hong Kong. The latest international auction, held Nov. 14-26, was the first since the junta's bloody September crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators triggered international outrage. First lady Laura Bush had joined worldwide calls to boycott the purchase of gems from Myanmar, also called  Burma. "Every Burmese stone, bought, cut polished and sold sustains an illegitimate, repressive regime," she said in a statement timed to coincide with the latest sale's opening. She welcomed the decision by the Jewelers of America and member companies such as Tiffany and Cartier to ban gems from Myanmar.

At least 3,500 lots of precious stones were sold at this month's auction in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, the government's New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported. It did not say how much money changed hands. The auction made far less money than those held in previous years, however, an official at the state-run Myanmar Gems Enterprise said. He insisted his name be withheld, saying he feared reprisals from authorities. New York-based Human Rights Watch said Myanmar Gems Enterprise earned nearly $300 million from gem sales in the fiscal year 2006-07. Due to U.S. economic sanctions, which were imposed on Myanmar in July 2003 and froze all legal U.S. dollar transfers into the country, euros are used for most international business transactions there.The September crackdown on democracy supporters killed at least 15 people, according to information authorities gave the United Nations. Dissidents and diplomats suspect the true figure is much higher.

Courtesy AP

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