MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma Roads - updates on mining in Burma

Published by MAC on 2005-08-12

Burma Roads

Though officially "off limits" to US and European investment, the military junta in Burma continues to attract largescale Chinese investment and considerable interest from Indian and Thai exploiters.

The country's biggest single mining venture remains that of Robert Friedland's Monywa mine although it's having some problems of its own at present.

The folllowing contrubitions summarise recent "developments" under what continues to be one of the most secretive, repressive, and profligate regimes on earth. (MAC is indebted to Eric Snider for his consistent monitoring of these issues).

China, Myanmar sign mineral exploration agreement

12 August 2005


YANGON, -- China and Myanmar signed Friday evening one more agreement on nickel mineral exploration and feasibility study. The agreement was signed between the Kingbao Mining Ltd of China based in Hong Kong and the No.3 Mining Enterprise of the Myanmar Ministry of Mines. Under the agreement, the nickel mineral exploration and feasibility study will be carried out in northwestern Myanmar's Mwetaung region where Chin state and Sagaing division meet.

It was the second nickel mineral exploration agreement signed between China and Myanmar. The first was between the China Nonferrous Metal Mining and Construction (Group) Co. (CNMC) and the Myanmar Ministry of Mines in July last year on the same undertaking in Tagaung Taung region, northern Mandalay division.

Eric Snider comments: The Mwetaung nickel deposit, about 18 km north of Kalaymyo, is quite extensive, with the two largest ore bodies estimated at 30,000,000 tons of ore averaging 1.19% nickel, and the other at 80,000,000 tons averaging 1.00% nickel. By contrast the Tagaung deposit has been estimated at 40 million tons of 2.15% Ni. The Mwetaung area has been surveyed and explored since 1965. A subsidiary of Homestake Mining made a bid on the Mwetaung nickel concession a few years ago, but failed to follow through. The area is close to the Manipur border and there has been talk over the years about an Indian company getting involved. Nissho Iwai Corp of Japan did a preliminary survey in 1981, and a UNDP evaluation in 1991suggested that several million tons of laterite ore in one of the deposits could produce as high as 2% NI. Not unattractive at a time when nickel futures are as high as $ 15,170 a ton and Chinese demand appears to be insatiable.

Obviously, if this project is to get beyond the drill and study stage, it will need the kind of financing that only a major player on the international mining scene could provide. Coal and limestone deposits in the Kalay area would provide the kind of feedstock needed for a smelter, but it will be years before electricity in the area can be generated either from coal or from one of several hydro power sources.

Problems at Monywa

Power shortages and higher operating costs are hurting production and digging into profits at Ivanhoe's Monywa mine, in spite of record prices for its copper cathode. The joint venture company also seems to be having difficulty getting delivery of imported ore haulage trucks and other equipment which will dig further into profits later this year. The long anticipated hookup with one or more East Asian partners in developing the Letpadaung copper deposit is still hanging fire until the electric power supply question can be resolved.

There's no recent news from Ivanhoe's gold mining venture at Moditaung in Yamethin township.

(Ivanhoe's full report is at

Gems and tin

Meanwhile there's increased buyer interest in rubellite in the Yangon gem market; a deposit was discovered at Molo on the Shweli river about 40 km northeast of Momeik in western Shan State a couple of years ago. No word on what group is carrying out operations there, but it's sure to be heavily involved with the military in some way or other. The Chinese buyers mentioned in the Myanmar Times article are probably not from 'Shweli' but rather from the border town of 'Ruili', a big centre for the jade trade.

A news story, published in the New Era journal for the week beginning August 8th, describes the Karen National Union (KNU)'s support for internally displaced Karen farming families in its remaining foothold in the eastern Tenasserim. It also says that some KNU income is derived from small tin mines which it operates in the area. The KNU is customarily somewhat vague about how much territory its 4th Brigade still controls, and where exactly this is located, but the story - written by the Czech journalist Max Wechsler - mentions the mountainous area east of the Tenasserim River, close to the Thai border in the northern Tenasserim. Several Burmese companies and at least one Thai outfit, the Myanmar Pongpipat Co, operate small tin mines in the Heinda area, east of Tavoy, and the KNU tin mining operations are probably in the same general area.

Chinese buyers boost demand for rubellite

Yangon: Kyaw Thu: Myanmar Times

25th August 2005

The price of rubellite - a type of crystal from the tourmaline family of semiprecious gemstones - has increased by a factor of five due to high demand from Chinese buyers, crystal dealers said last week. "Demand has been very high in June," said Ko Myat Toe from the Crystal Hunter, a wholesale outlet for semiprecious stones in Yangon. The price increase occurred because buyers from China have purchased all the rubellite in Myanmar's crystal market in the past two months, he said.

Most of the Chinese buyers are from the gem market in Shweli, near the border with Myanmar. "And three months ago large amounts of rubellite were also purchased by buyers from the Czech Republic," Ko Myat Toe said. As a result of the high demand the price has increased by five times, he said.

Rubellite has replaced topaz in popularity, the latter of which also increased in price by five times before Thingyan as the result of a buying frenzy by Chinese merchants. However, sales of topaz dropped sharply in June when interest shifted to rubellite, Ko Myat Toe said.

Ma Thu Zar Aung from the Mical Gem Laboratory also said the price of topaz was high until about two weeks ago, when demand for rubellite and spinel skyrocketed. "Now the price of spinel and rubellite is high," she said. One reason that China is buying huge amounts of crystal from Myanmar is that they want to develop a viable crystal market in their own country, she said.

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