Burma launches 11-day gem auction

Jun 25, 2008 (AFP)‚ Military-run Burma launched an 11-day auction of precious gems in Rangoon on Tuesday, state media said, as the country struggles to recover from last month’s devastating cyclone.

The New Light of Myanmar announced that the sale of gems, jade and pearls would run until 4 July in the economic hub, where some buildings remain in ruins and fallen trees litter the roads seven weeks after Cyclone Nargis.

The junta-run daily gave no further details of the sale, but a staff member at the Myanmar Convention Centre confirmed an auction opened there this morning that was attended by both local and foreign dealers.

Burma auctioned off more than 7,700 lots of precious stones, which officials valued at more than 100 million euros (153 million US dollars), in March.

Burma, one of the world’s poorest countries, is the source of some of the globe’s most beautiful rubies. Each auction brings in more than 100 million dollars, making it a key source of revenue for the ruling junta.

The military regime has estimated it will need 10.7 billion dollars to rebuild after the cyclone struck in early May, leaving more than 138,000 people dead or missing when it pummelled the southwest delta and Rangoon.

An international donor conference in late May only garnered a small proportion of those funds.

International donors have historically been reluctant to pump money into Burma, which has been ruled by the military since 1962 and keeps opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

The United States and Europe intensified economic sanctions on the regime after a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters last year, while Washington and human rights groups have urged gem buyers to boycott the sales.

Burma’s two biggest customers, China and Thailand, have continued to attend the frequent gem auctions despite an international outcry over the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests last September.

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