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Der Spiegel: Bloodstained Rubies Fund Burmese Regime

Jewels of the Junta

Author: Beat Balzli
October 16, 2007



Most of the world's finished rubies originate in Burma, where the junta earns millions by mining them. Jewelers in Europe and Asia rake in handsome profits from the stones and believe they're helping rebels -- as long as the stones come through middlemen. They are probably wrong.


Everyone was in the mood for a party a week ago Saturday at the Kristall mountain lodge and restaurant in Idar-Oberstein, a picturesque small town known as Germany 's "GemstoneCity ."After an elaborate laser show, hotel guests attending the Intergem trade convention danced late into the night. At two in the morning, the insiders of this discreet industry were still celebrating "extremely good business deals," according to one participant.

Buyers for Europe 's top jewelers come to Idar-Oberstein to purchase precious stones, gems and diamonds -- and they hit pay dirt again this year, with rare merchandise from Southeast Asia. Large, deep red rubies from Burmacommand prices of tens of thousands of euros per carat, making them the most exclusive stones a gemstone dealer can offer.

"We sold various Burmese rubies at the show," confirms Konrad Henn from gemstone trading company Karl Faller. He says the rubies his company buys and sells come almost exclusively from the regions of Mogok and Mong Hsu. But Henn has never ventured to visit the mines there. "The risk would be too great, and the prices we could get directly on location wouldn't be any better than what we pay our longstanding Thai suppliers," he says.

In fact, the gem dealers might risk losing their appetite for rubies if they visited restricted areas in Burma . In addition to cracking down on uprisings led by defiant monks and the opposition, the Burmese military regime forces workers to extract the precious stones under brutal conditions in its heavily guarded mines.

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