More Than 70 Missing After Landslide in Myanmar’s Jade-Mining Region

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myanmar-jade-scavengers-hpakant-oct4-2015.jpg Scavengers dig for raw jade stones in piles of waste rubble next to a jade mine in Hpakant, northeastern Myanmar's Kachin state, Oct. 4, 2015.

More than 70 people remain missing and 19 are injured a day after a landslide of mountainous slag left a dozen dead in northeastern Myanmar’s Hpakant jade-mining region, a local resident and town official said Tuesday.

Heavy rains caused the huge pile of mining waste to collapse Monday evening while scavengers searched the excavation site for leftover jade deposits.

The number of injured has jumped to 19, up from the 11 who were initially reported hurt immediately after the disaster, said Hmawe Gyi, a resident of Hpakant in Kachin state and a member of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party after visiting the accident site.

Seventy-three people remain missing, he said.

Rescuers still have not resumed efforts to find survivors because continued rainfall could trigger additional landslides, he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“The rescue work has stopped,” Hmawe Gyi said. “Jade mine companies should use machinery and cooperate with authorities to search for the missing people.”

“Now, people don’t know if their family members are dead or not,” he said. “They don’t know whether they should hold funerals. Some of them did hold funerals, although they didn’t know exactly whether their family members are dead or just missing.”

An official who works in the town’s administrative office told RFA on Wednesday that administrators have yet to receive an update on the latest situation because transportation in the area is difficult.

Yadanar Star, the company that ran the site, ceased its mining operations on Sunday, prompting scavengers to move in to search for jade, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

Lack of regulation

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.

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.

Ohn Win, head of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, conducted an inspection tour of mines in Hpakant in early May after civil society organizations in Kachin state demanded that the new government form a commission to inspect jade mines that have violated industry regulations.

The area has also been rocked by fighting between the Myanmar army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an armed ethnic group.

On Wednesday, the national army detained three men it has accused of being KIA operatives connected to a series of bombings targeting mining companies in Hpakant earlier this month, Democratic Voice of Burma reported, citing the military mouthpiece Myawady News.

Reported by Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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