Five migrant workers trying to scavenge gems were shot dead and about 20 others were injured during a clash with security police on Wednesday night at a jade mine in the resource-rich Hpakant township mining region of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, a local police official said.
Police Lieutenant Colonel Myo Thura Naung from the Kachin State Police told RFA’s Myanmar Service that more than 60 workers entered the operations of a Myanmar-China joint venture called Triple One Company in the Lone Kin mining area at 9:30 p.m.
After security guards made them turn back, about 600 scavengers returned an hour later and refused to let the guards stop them from entering the area, he said.
“They brought knives, stones, and sticks and attacked security police with these weapons, Myo Thura Naung said. “When they attacked the police, the police had to open fire to stop them.”
“Because of this gunfire, five workers were killed, and 20 were injured,” he said. “Five security guards, including a police major, were also injured in the attack.”
Hpakant administrator Kyaw Zwa Aung told RFA that the scavengers “hacked” security guards, set fire to a vehicle, and threw stones at two other trucks.
“Security guards opened fire to scare them,” he said. “About five security guards received minor injuries from rocks that were thrown, five miners were killed, and 20 other miners were injured.”
Eleven of those who sustained injuries in the melee were taken to a hospital in the state capital Myintkyina Hospital, Kyaw Zaw Aung said.
RFA’s Myanmar Service tried to contact miners involved in the clash, but was unable to reach them.
Clashes not uncommon
Such deadly clashes are not uncommon in Hpakant, where companies working at jade-mining sites employ guards to keep out scavengers who trespass to search for cast-off stones to sell.
“Because they have a lot of manpower, these mine workers usually come into mine areas by force and destroy jade companies’ property,” Myo Thura Nuang said.
About 200,000 mine workers from various regions of Myanmar work in the Hpakant jade mine area.
In June, one person died when police opened fire to stop about 1,000 jade scavengers who were entering the Wakyae jade mine in Hpakant.
A month earlier, guards working at the Nansibon Jade Mine near Hkamti township in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, adjacent to Hpakant, killed four migrant workers and wounded 11 others trying to search for cast-off stones at the site when they fired on them.
The Hpakant region has also seen a significant number of deaths over the past few years from a string of deadly landslides where slag heaps have collapsed on scavengers.
Hpakant, which lies about 400 miles (640 kilometers) north of Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, is the center of the country’s jade mining industry and produces some of the highest-quality jade in the world.
Much of the gem is exported or smuggled to neighboring China, where demand for the precious stone is high.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.