Weapons of Mass Donation
by Randolph E. Post
The theme in Burma (Myanmar) is
big – bigger – biggest. Biggest gems, biggest
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Sheet: A Rare Burmese 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.