Political parties in northeastern Myanmar’s Kachin state called on Thursday for the government to adopt a new policy on natural-resource extraction following a series of deadly accidents that have occurred in jade-mining areas in the largely unregulated industry.
Earlier this week, about a dozen people were killed, 19 were injured, and scores remain missing after heavy rain caused a mountainous heap of slag from jade-mining operations to collapse in the state’s Hpakant township. Scavengers were searching the excavation site for jade remnants from a mine that had recently stopped operating, when the accident occurred.
Representatives from the Kachin State Democracy Party, Kachin Democratic Party, and Kachin National Democracy Congress discussed a policy on natural-resource extraction during a two-day meeting and released a statement on Thursday with several demands.
The parties have called on the national government to issue policies on natural-resource extraction, offer constitutional protection for the policies, supply federal funding for the state’s extraction activities, and ensure project transparency and accountability.
Besides the accidents caused by dangerous conditions at mining sites, the state has also been rocked by ongoing clashes between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an armed ethnic group, and the Myanmar army around Hpakant, the nation’s top jade-production area.
“We had more fighting while preparations are being made to hold the Panglong Conference,” said Bran Aung of the Kachin State Democracy Party, in a reference to the peace negotiations that the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party government is gearing up to hold in late July.
“We want to demand that the government and companies halt all projects while the peace conference is being held.”
The new civilian-led government is pushing for a permanent end to Myanmar’s civil wars between armed ethnic groups, such as the KIA, and national military forces.
Hpakant, which lies 651 kilometers (404 miles) north of Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, produces some of the highest-quality jade in the world, much of it exported or smuggled to China where demand for the precious stone is high.
Accidents from dangerous jade-mining conditions are nothing new in Hpakant where few, if any, safety regulations are in place. Another slag heap collapse in early May killed 13 people believed to scavengers who were searching for jade pieces amid waste cast off from mining operations.
Last November, more than 100 people died when a 200-foot pile of dirt and debris from mining activities collapsed, engulfing huts in an encampment of jade scavengers and their families.
Locals have led protests against the mining companies in recent months to get them to improve the safety of excavation areas in light of a recent series of deadly landslides caused by collapsing waste heaps.
Rights groups routinely criticize the mining companies for the detrimental social and environmental impacts of their activities in the largely unregulated industry.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.