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Jan 20, 2008
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Myanmar auctions gems, jade despite boycott calls: report

By
AFP
Published
Jan 20, 2008

YANGON, Jan 20, 2008 (AFP) - Myanmar's military government sold 600 lots of gems and jade at a recent auction, state media said Sunday, earning much-needed foreign income for the isolated junta as it faces stiff economic sanctions.

Despite calls from the United States and human-rights groups for a boycott of the sale after a bloody crackdown on protests last year, about 280 foreigners attended the sale, the New Light of Myanmar paper said.

The government newspaper did not reveal how much the five-day auction earned, but a similar sale in November generated 150 million dollars.

About 1,600 lots of gems and jade were up for sale at the auction which ended Saturday, and another sale of the precious stones is scheduled for March, the newspaper said.

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

Robust demand from jade-crazed China, Thailand and Singapore has continued to boost gem trading, despite an outcry from the international community over the suppression of pro-democracy protests last year.

The United Nations has said that at least 31 people were killed in Myanmar when troops cracked down on peaceful demonstrations.

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

The US Senate in December approved sanctions against Myanmar's multi-million dollar gemstone industry to punish the military regime, while the European Union has also tightened sanctions aimed at the top generals.

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