YANGON (Reuters) - A hotel in Myanmar abruptly canceled a film screening on Wednesday by a non-government body, Global Witness, that is critical of the role of the military in the lucrative jade business and its impact on a difficult peace process.
The cancellation highlights sensitivities over portrayals of the army as Myanmar grapples with the legacy of nearly 50 years of military rule, following a semi-civilian government and 2015 elections that led to the administration of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The event was timed ahead of a peace conference next week of Suu Kyi, the military and ethnic armed groups, some of whom have fought the central government for decades demanding greater autonomy.
The hotel in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, had been due to host the screening with officials of the London-based NGO, but reporters arriving at the event were told hotel officials would not let it go ahead.
“We regret we are unable to show the video as the written permission from the Yangon regional government is required,” the Parkroyal Hotel said in a statement read out by Paul Donowitz, Global Witness’ campaign leader for Myanmar.
It was not immediately clear what regulations the hotel was referring to.
Reuters was unable to reach a government spokesman with a request for comment.
A member of the hotel’s sales and marketing team, Ei Phyu Sin Aung, referred Reuters to the earlier statement and said the decision was made by the hotel’s general manager, who was not immediately available for comment.
Even after Myanmar’s political transition in April 2016, the army continues to wield considerable political power, controlling security ministries and a quarter of the seats in parliament.
The organization did not show the film, “Jade and the Generals”, but has made it accessible online.
The film underscores the military’s role in jade mining in northern Kachin State and urges Suu Kyi’s government to regulate profit-sharing from natural resources in ethnic areas so as to benefit their residents and defuse tension.
Myanmar has broadly worded defamation laws which rights monitors say curb freedom of speech and have been used against poets and journalists, even after Suu Kyi took over.
“In democratic societies it’s important that (on) controversial topics oppositional voices are given space to discuss issues of great national importance,” Donowitz told a news conference held instead of the screening.
“Without allowing open debate it makes it very hard for complicated, longstanding and important issues to get resolved.”
The value of Myanmar’s secretive jade trade was $31 billion in 2014, or roughly half of GDP, Global Witness estimated in a 2015 report that detailed the military families, drug lords and firms benefiting from it.
The mining - which feeds neighboring China’s outsize appetite for the “stone of heaven” - has fueled armed conflict, land grabs, deadly landslides and floods, it said.
Reporting by Simon Lewis and Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Clarence Fernandez