Myanmar’s natural resources minister on Friday began an inspection tour of the Hpakant jade mines and Mohnyin gold mines in Kachin state, where local residents are concerned about the environmental damage and deadly accidents their operations have caused, a state government official said.
Ohn Win, head of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, is conducting the inspection through May 3 in response to a demand by civil society organizations in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state in late March that the new government form a commission to inspect jade mines that had violated industry regulations.
H La Aung, minister of natural resources and the environment in Kachin state, said Ohn Win will meet with the state’s chief minister and other members of the government on Saturday and travel to the town of Mohnyin on Sunday.
During the tour, members of the Kachin state government will discuss the problem of waste soil produced by mining activities and other environmental issues concerning the jade mines in Hpakant township with Ohn Win, he said.
Mining and resource extraction in mineral-rich Kachin—which holds jade, amber, gold, copper, iron ore and gems—have caused consternation among local communities affected by environmental fallout and other dangers from the activities.
Gold mining in Mohnyin township has caused environmental damage because of the hazardous toxins used in the extraction process, while jade mining companies in Hpakant have improperly dumped small mountains of waste soil that have led to deadly landslides.
Last November, a 200-foot pile of dirt and debris from mining activities collapsed in the township, engulfing huts in an encampment of itinerant jade scavengers and their families and killing more than 100 people.
In January, at least five landslides occurred at refuse sites around jade mines in the township, leaving six dead and dozens trapped beneath rubble.
Local residents worry that heavy rains during the upcoming June-October monsoon season could cause additional landslides and endanger the lives of those who live nearby.
Hpakant, which lies 651 kilometers (404 miles) 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 which is exported or smuggled to neighboring China, where demand for the precious stone is high.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) party came to power at the beginning of April, has called for increased safety measures and government oversight of the industry.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.