Myanmar jade mine disaster toll rises
YANGON (AFP) – The death toll from a landslide at an illegal jade mine in northern Myanmar rose to four yesterday, rescuers said, warning that dozens of people still missing are likely dead.
Dozens of people die each year working in the lucrative but poorly regulated jade trade, which sees low-paid migrant workers mining coveted gems in neighboring China.
Rescuers on Thursday removed three bodies from the nearby lake in Hpakant township, near the Chinese border, adding to that found the day before.
Authorities initially said at least 70 people were missing after the torrent of rocks and dirt poured into the lake early Wednesday, but later said they were still trying to confirm that figure.
Two of the men found yesterday were from Yinmar Pin, hundreds of kilometers in central Myanmar, they said, while the third was from Rakhine State in the southwest.
Hpakant miners come from all over Myanmar to make a living picking up the rubbish heaps left behind by industrial mining companies in the hope of finding a neglected piece of jade.
Rescuers canceled the search for the second day due to the dark, said Ko Jack of the Myanmar Rescue Organization.
They would be back at the lake for a third and final day today, he added, after which his team would only come to collect the bodies “if they appear on the water”.
Hundreds of diggers came to Hpakant during the rainy season to prospect in treacherous surface mines despite the junta’s ban on digging until March 2022, according to a local activist.
Determining how many people were working at the time of the disaster would be difficult, rescuers said, with families reluctant to admit loved ones were there and survivors unwilling to come forward.
Rescuers said increased pressure from the weight of the earth and dumped rocks pushed the ground down into the nearby lake.
The incident is the latest tragedy to hit the poorly regulated multibillion dollar industry.
Jade and other natural resources abundant in northern Myanmar – including wood, gold, and amber – have helped finance both sides of a decades-long civil war between ethnic insurgents. Kachin and the army.
Civilians are often trapped in the midst of the struggle for mine control and their lucrative income, with rampant drug and arms trafficking further dampening the conflict.
Heavy rains last year triggered a massive landslide in Hpakant that left nearly 300 miners buried.
Watchdog Global Witness estimated the industry to be worth some $ 31 billion in 2014. But corruption means very little reaches state coffers.
A military coup in February also extinguished any possibility of reform of the dangerous and unregulated industry initiated by the civilian government of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a Global Witness report earlier this year.
The coup also sparked fighting in Kachin state between local insurgents and the Burmese military, the watchdog said.
Wednesday’s disaster “is a haunting reminder that lives too often take a back seat in the Hpakant jade mines,” Hanna Hindstrom, Myanmar campaigner for Global Witness Hanna Hindstrom, told AFP.
“As the military is busy turning the industry into a financial lifeline for its illegitimate regime, once again the miners are paying the ultimate price.”
A junta-run five-day jade store “came to a successful end,” according to the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Wednesday, adding that all lots of jade on sale had been sold to national and international buyers.