Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Myanmar Gems Tell Sordid Tale

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The gem merchants of Bangkok display their glistening wares proudly: diamonds from Africa, sapphires from Sri Lanka and rubies, of course, from Myanmar.

The red stones from the country are prized for their purity and hue. But they have a sinister flaw.

The country's military rulers rely on sales of precious stones such as sapphires, pearls and jade to fund their regime. Rubies are probably the biggest earner; more than 90 percent of the world's rubies come from Myanmar.

International outrage over the generals' brutal crackdown on pro-democracy rallies encouraged the European Union this week to consider a trade ban on Myanmar's gemstones, a leading export earner in the impoverished country.

There is also pressure in Washington to close a loophole on existing U.S. sanctions which allows in most of its precious stones.

But in neighboring Thailand, where the majority of Myanmar's gems are bought and sold, the merchants have yet to be put off business with the junta.

"People are unhappy about what's going on but they are not angry enough to stop buying rubies," said Pornchai Chuenchomlada, president of the Thai Gem and Jewellery Traders Association.

"If they killed a lot of people like they did in 1988, we might consider banning their products," said Pornchai, adding that he personally bought little from Myanmar.