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Weapons of Mass Donation
by Randolph E. Post

The theme in Burma (Myanmar) is big – bigger – biggest. Biggest gems, biggest donations.

Burma’s claim to the discoveries of the world’s largest pearl, ruby, sapphire, peridot and jade have become eye-boggling realities, yet each of these spectacular gem finds was voluntarily donated to the state.

Voluntarily? Leaders in democracy should sit up and take notice.

By late 1988, the Burmese military junta was virtually bankrupt. Hungering after foreign currency to maintain their illegitimate grip on power, SLORC sold huge logging, fishing, mining and other concessions to multinational corporations, and even other countries, thus creating a lucrative income stream.

The junta entered into a plentitude of joint ventures with many of these external interests, opening the unbridled exploitation of the natural resources of Burma, amongst the richest in the world. Many of the ventures include a state partner tantalizingly called Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings. Burma’s Directorate of Defense Procurement, the importers of military weaponry for the army, holds forty percent. Members of the armed forces, who coincidentally use the weaponry, hold the other sixty percent.

Major profits from these ventures pay for enlarging the army, the lifeblood of the junta. They also pay for weapons from China, Pakistan, and North Korea. Minor profits line the pockets of generals in Rangoon.

Burma has no external enemies. Instead, the ever-increasing military force is used to suppress dissent amongst the people, as well as conscripting forced labor to carry out the work of the state.This includes portering for the army, building roads, military installations, mining, and just about any forced labor needed. When not consumed with these principal tasks, the army wages genocide against the country’s ethnic minorities.

Accordingly, several international governments imposed sanctions, even encouraging their resident corporations to cease operations in Burma. Pepsi and others went away; Unocal may be next. Leaders in democracy should certainly follow up on this.

With a remarkably poor sense of timing, the junta then elected to whack the wholly-owned foreign companies operating in Burma by revoking their import and export licenses. Even joint-venture partners, like those in Mandalay Brewery, found themselves out in the cold. This subsequently chilled the enthusiasm of foreign investors. As one might expect, these and other actions once again returned the country to the edge of bankruptcy, leaving the junta in a desperate search for new sources of revenue.

Looking again to natural resources, General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC nee SLORC,) twisted a few arms, and even the spirit of donation in Theraveda Buddhism - merely to finance his political survival.

Fielding Hall noted in his 1902 book The Soul of the People - “The Burmese give in charity far more in proportion to their wealth than any other people.” Over a hundred years later, the wealth of Burmese gem charity has become simply awesome.

Found in a pinctata maxima oyster on the seabed north-west of Zadetgyi Island, the world’s largest donated nacreous pearl weighs 845 carats. The world famous 19th century Hope pearl weighs a mere 450 carats by comparison. Both are blister pearls. Two days after the Burmese pearl’s discovery it was donated to the state in a formal ceremony at the Ministry of Defense in Rangoon. General Than Shwe personally attended to inspect the pearl, saying: “In addition to the pearl’s size, it is also a rare, significant and quality gem, the find of which is auspicious news to the State and the people.”

Here is more auspicious news for the state and the people: at 329 carats, the world’s largest donated peridot is of outstanding gem quality, the world’s largest donated ruby, a staggering 21,450 carats in weight, is quite magnificent. The world’s largest donated sapphire is a 63,000-carat colossus. While the value of these gems is significant, there is more. At 3000 tons, the world’s largest donated jade dike is more a monolith than gem. Covered with glittering green and violet colored serpentine crystal, the gem quality jadeite measures seventy feet long, sixteen feet wide, and thirty feet high. Imagine having this puppy crated and delivered to the state. Calculating at a floor value of US twenty dollars per kilo of jade, the find is worth in excess of fifty million dollars. The Dragon Jade and Gems Company Ltd discovered the jade dyke.The company is owned by the Pa-O Peace Group (PPG,) previously known as the Pa-O National Organization (PNO.) The PNO entered into a lucrative ceasefire deal with the junta in 1991 and now controls Special Region 6 in the southern Shan State.

After hearing of the jade dike’s discovery, PPG leader U Aung Kham Hti declared: “It should be donated to the state, and that the state, the whole people, and the generations to come should own it as a historic gem.” Later, he delightfully donated it on behalf of the Pa-O Peace Group, saying: “Our group believes that the world’s largest jade find is due to the goodwill and immense cetana (’will’ or ’volition’) of state leaders. It is to be attributed to the correct economic objectives of the state and the achievement of national reconsolidation.” He confidently added: “We have traditionally believed that donation of a precious stone brings good luck to the donor as well as the receiver. We assumed that it is better to hand over the massive jade dyke to the state, which already possesses the world’s largest ruby, the world’s largest sapphire, the world’s largest peridot and the world’s largest pearl.”

At the donation ceremony, junta Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt presented U Aung Kham Hti with a certificate and a little honorary medal. He then dutifully pointed out: “Everybody should be proud of the act of donation to the state (and) the benefits gained through working hard on the allotted plot of the gems land.”

Some ethnic leaders believe the jade dyke was donated by the Pa-O so that the junta will give them sizable new business contracts. The Pa-O already has interests outside mining, including agriculture and hotel construction.

Hkun Okker, Chairman of the dissident Pa-O Peoples Liberation Organization (PPLO,) noted: “We know what kind of donation this is. The enemy is destroying our revolution with the economic opportunities.”

The spectacular jade dyke was discovered forty feet underground on a site that was previously explored. Massive tunneling techniques executed by forced labor were used to locate the gem. Now cut into slabs and transported to jewelry makers in Rangoon, junta blood has begun to flow again.

Beyond these exploration, mining, and donation cycles, rumors abound that the junta is secretly searching for a legendary ’magic’ ruby, one that always brings war victory to its owners. One can imagine why.

In the meantime, the state holds legal title over all land in Burma, along with its minerals, oil, natural gas deposits, and standing forests, except where it has relinquished that right. But if a ’world’s largest’ is discovered anywhere in Burma, you can be sure it’s donation time.The leadership in Rangoon insists that the contributions are on a purely voluntary basis as part of Buddhist merit making.

After all, everyone historically donates in Burma – don’t they?

Well no, not everyone.One of Burma’s world biggest gems finds escaped donation to the state.There is some good news here after all.

When local fishermen trawling off the southern Burmese coast reeled in their net, they found a gigantic conch trapped inside.The fact that a seabed dwelling conch was caught in a net that was far above the bottom came as no surprise to the fishermen, who are of Chinese ancestry. They believe an old Chinese legend about pearl-makers traveling to the surface to bask in the light of the full moon. It was, after all, taken during the night of the full moon of Waso.

They were surprised by the fact that the conch shell was right turning, and that the animal weighed two hundred and eighty three pounds. The shell was crème white in color with bright yellow markings. The fishermen estimated the age of the conch to be many hundreds of years.

Inside the conch was a round creme colored pearl weighing over one hundred carats. This conch pearl is more than double the weight of the previous record holder, a 45-carat pink queen conch pearl, now part of a jewelry ensemble by Harry Winston.

Non-nacreous conch pearls are exceedingly rare, the average being one for every fifty thousand conches. World conch stocks are depleted due to over fishing, and several countries now control fishing quotas or ban the taking of conch outright. Some marine scientists consider the conch family ’Strombidae’ to be functionally extinct. That’s humanity for you. This Burmese pearl may be the last of the biggest.

The fishermen quietly sent the world’s largest conch pearl out of the country. Now it sits securely in a vault, awaiting sale by auction, never to become a weapon of mass donation.

True, the sale of the pearl will affect the lives of only a few families from a poor fishing village, but it won’t be sold by dictatorial tyrants to continue their reign of terror against the people of Burma.

Which reminds me, where are the leaders in democracy when you really need them?


Note: Quotations cited in this article were previously published by www.myanmar.com; www.irrawaddy.org; and www. myanmargems-jewelry.com.mm.

Spec Sheet: A Rare Burmese Conch Pearl

Natural conch pearl
Weight = 100.4 carat
Size = 23.37-24.54 mm
Specific gravity = 2.839
The pearl is being sold in Hong Kong.
The sale closes at midnight June 31, 2003.
The current high bid is USD 2.7 million.
We expect this bid to be the high offer.