At least 13 migrant workers were killed and eight injured by a collapsing slag heap on Friday as they scavenged jade remnants at a mine in Hpakant township in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, sources in Myanmar said.
“The landslide occurred between 4:00 to 6:00 a.m.,” Shwe Thein, ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party chairman for Hpakant’s Sitemu village told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The company allows outside workers to look for jade outside the company’s regular working hours,” he said.
Eight workers were injured and sent to a hospital in Hpakant.
Local authorities, civil society organization members, and NLD members meanwhile continue to search for survivors, sources said.
Also speaking to RFA, local resident Zaw Moe Htet said that as many as 300,000 “outside workers” will gather in Hpakant during the rainy season to search for jade, which they can easily see on the banks of slag cast off from mining.
“So they go to look for jade even in heavy rain, and then the landslides happen,” he said.
“Jade mining companies don’t follow rules and regulations, and the authorities don’t take action against them. That’s why so many people are killed every year,” he said.
Myanmar’s Hpakant region, where up to 90 percent of the world’s jadeite is mined, has seen a significant number of deaths over the past few years from a string of deadly landslides where slag heaps have collapsed on scavengers, who search amid dangerous mountains of rubble and tailings in jade mines for pieces of the valuable gemstone left behind in mining operations.
In November 2015, at least 115 migrant miners died when a 200-foot mountain of dirt and mine wste collapsed on a makeshift settlement of miners’ huts.
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 Zarni Htun and Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.