Kachin rebels, Myanmar junta troops fight for control of jade mining area

The region produces about 70% of the world’s jade, a key source of wealth to fund operations.
By RFA Burmese
2024.02.26
Kachin rebels, Myanmar junta troops fight for control of jade mining area A jade mine is seen in Hpakant, Kachin state, Myanmar, Nov. 25, 2015.
(Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Fighting between the rebel Kachin Independence Army and the junta’s military over control of Myanmar’s largest jade mine – an important source of wealth – has intensified since the beginning of the year, according to local residents and political observers.

Since the February 2021 military coup d’etat, both the junta and the KIA have relied on natural resources to fund their operations, and Hpakant is a particularly important area, said Aung Hein Min, a Kachin political analyst.

“The armed groups are trying to control these areas as it is strategically important for both military and financial support,” said Aung Hein Min, an elected parliamentarian for Hpakant township in 2020. “It is an important point to control jade production.”

The area produces about 70% of the world’s jade, which is popular in neighboring China, according to researchers and gem experts.

On Jan. 20, anti-junta People’s Defense Forces and the Kachin Independence Army, or KIA, together attacked and seized Hway Hkar, a strategic hill, from the junta’s 33rd Military Division, a major gateway for Hpakant township in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state. 

ENG_BUR_JadeMines_02262024.2.JPG
Miners search for jade stones at a mine dump at a mine in Hpakant, Kachin state, Myanmar Nov. 25, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

The joint KIA and PDF forces also took control of the junta’s nearby Nam Tein military camp on Feb. 2, local residents told Radio Free Asia.

“These are strategic hills where military forces have been stationed for about a decade,” a resident said on condition of anonymity. “The military council has lost these hills after serious attacks by rebel forces.”

The KIA and the junta both typically collect about 20 percent of jade production in exchange for giving permission to miners to extract in their areas of control, according to an April 2023 report from the Kachin State Accountability Resource Governance group. 

The Kachin Independence Organization, or KIO – the political wing of the KIA – has clashed with the Myanmar military for decades.

The KIO sometimes works with Chinese companies in mining rare earth minerals in Kachin state, where successive governments have failed to regulate illegal mining for gold, jade and other rare metals for generations. 

Junta troops and the KIA have fought about 35 battles in the area since early February, according to Col. Naw Bu, the KIO’s news and information officer. The KIA has captured a total of 10 military camps since last month, he said.

“We can’t talk about military strategy to the media,” he said to RFA. “We have nothing to say about significant developments until now despite the escalation of battles.”

RFA tried to contact Social Affairs Minister Thant Zin Koko, the spokesperson of the junta’s Kachin state government, to ask about the recent fighting in Hpakant, but he couldn’t be reached.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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