An internationally important amber deposit in northern Myanmar has been taken over by the country’s military and is being looted to line the pockets of the generals, a report from a local non-governmental organisation confirms.
The amber mines in Kachin State have produced hundreds of scientifically priceless fossils dating from 99 million years ago, including the tail of a feathered dinosaur, several complete birds, lizards, frogs and countless insects and other invertebrates.
As previously revealed by New Scientist, the fossils are mined in horrendous conditions, smuggled over the border into China and sold in a gem market in Tengchong. Palaeontologists are important buyers and publish dozens of papers every month describing new specimens.
The Kachin people have been fighting for independence from Myanmar since 1962. Until 2017, indigenous people controlled the mines, but in June of that year the Myanmar military began a campaign to oust them and seize control. The offensive killed and displaced thousands of people and has been condemned by the UN as a genocide and crime against humanity.
The government claimed its action was to halt illegal mining and protect the environment, but the new report, by the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG), confirms that the military has resumed unregulated mining in the Hukawng Valley, where the richest deposits are found. The amber trade into China has probably now resumed, fuelled in part by scientific demand for specimens. The trade is worth an estimated $ 1 billion a year, according to the KDNG.
They claim that around 3000 displaced people from mining villages are still living in makeshift camps and being denied aid by the army.
The report is based on in-depth interviews with 21 people from the region. KDGN is calling on the army to halt its campaign and allow displaced people to return home, and for foreign governments and organisation to freeze investments in Myanmar and send humanitarian aid.
When New Scientist revealed the horrors of the Myanmar amber trade in May, Burmese amber expert David Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History responded by calling for a strict boycott of Burmese amber.
The Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar London has not responded to requests for comment.
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