Burma’s mythical ruby mine & jade mountain : The Tribune India

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Burma’s mythical ruby mine & jade mountain

Burma’s mythical ruby mine & jade mountain

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo



KC Verma

IN the 1970s, areas of Myanmar (then Burma) adjoining Manipur were poorly governed, and the very mention of the Somra Tract or Kachin conjured up images of armed rebels sneaking through jungles. Naga and Mizo insurgent groups were using a route through these sparsely populated areas to reach China. Militant Meitei groups also set up camps across the border. Collecting trans-border information was important, and every villager living in the border area was a potential informer. Many of them made good money from different intelligence agencies by peddling information they possessed. Fabricated stories often gained currency because there was no way of verifying information emanating from Myanmar, and security agencies were sometimes misled by concocted yarns.

Understandably, therefore, I disbelieved the story of the discovery of a mountain of jade when I first heard about it. But as the local head of a Central intelligence agency, I couldn’t just disregard the persistent rumours, even if they varied in detail. There were reports that a huge ruby mine had been discovered near Myitkyina, that the Burmese army was guarding a mountain of jade in Layshi and that valuable gemstones had been discovered in Homalin. A trans-border informer claimed to me that there was a significant movement of the Burmese army because of geological finds near Hkamti. I discounted his claims, but I became curious when he asserted that a magical substance had been found — it never caught fire, and it could be uranium ore! He promised to provide me a sample of the mineral on the condition that he be paid a handsome amount, which happened to be higher than my monthly salary. I told him to first get some evidence of the magical discovery.

Several weeks later, the informer slunk into my office late in the evening and, with a flourish, took out a cricket ball-sized rock from a bag and placed it on my table.

‘Uranium, sir,’ he said. I jumped out of my chair. I did not know what uranium ore looked like, but I had no desire to die of radioactive poisoning. I yelled at the informer, but he assured me that I was safe; after all, he had been carrying the rock around for more than two weeks. Nevertheless, I told him to replace it in the bag, which I then got him to hang on a tree in the office compound. Reluctantly, I paid him a portion of the amount he had demanded.

But I was in a quandary. I could not send the rock to my superiors in Delhi if it were indeed radioactive, nor could I send a report that it was uranium without confirmation, and thus the rock continued to hang on the tree till, fortuitously, a geologist friend visited Imphal a month later. I showed him the ‘uranium ore’ and he burst out laughing. He declared that it was asbestos ore, large deposits of which had been found in Myanmar. The discovery was quite pointless because asbestos use was banned. I had no option but to write off the money that I had paid as the cost of buying experience, and, sheepishly, I threw the rock away.

#China #Manipur #Myanmar


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