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Russian firm seeks gold in army-ruled Myanmar

A Russian company has won exploration rights for gold and other minerals in army-ruled Myanmar, official media reported on Saturday, the latest business deal between the junta and one of its few international friends.

Myanmar’s Geological Survey and Mineral Exploration Department and Russia’s Victorious Glory International Pte Ltd signed a deal on Friday to explore for “gold and associated minerals” in the mineral-rich former Burma, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Saturday. The agreement covers an area along the Uru River in northern Myanmar, between Phakant in Kachin State and Homalin in Sagaing Division, the newspaper said, without giving further details. The Homalin area is known for its deposits of gold, which has soared in value this year, hitting a record high of $936.50 an ounce in early February. Phakant, also known as the “Land of Jade”, is one of the country’s richest sources of the precious stone. The military, which has ruled the impoverished Southeast Asian nation since 1962, relies on sales of precious stones, such as sapphires, pearls and jade as a key source of foreign exchange. More than 90% of the world’s rubies come from Myanmar.

International outrage over the generals’ brutal crackdown on pro-democracy rallies in September last year triggered calls for tougher sanctions against the regime, including a boycott on Myanmar’s gems and minerals. Western nations led by the United States imposed tougher measures, but Russia, China and Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors have opposed sanctions as they compete for the country’s natural gas, timber and mineral resources.

Russia and China, both veto-wielding US Security Council members, have resisted tough measures against the regime to, which they are supporters and suppliers of arms. A Myanmar military delegation visited Russia last October, two weeks after the junta crushed the pro-democracy protests, to discuss buying air-defence missile systems, Russian media reported.

In 2001, Russia sold 10 MiG-29 fighters to Myanmar. Moscow and Beijing have also shown growing interest in energy cooperation with the regime, with companies from both countries receiving gas and oil exploration rights in recent years. In May last year, Russia’s Rosatom atomic energy agency set international alarm bells ringing when it announced a deal to build a nuclear research centre for Myanmar, which will include a 10 megawatt nuclear reactor with low enriched uranium. There has been no official word on the deal from the junta, but Myanmar technicians are believed to be receiving training in Russia. (Reuters)