One Dies in Scuffle Between Myanmar Security Forces And Jade Scavengers at Hpakant Mine

Police fire on migrant workers after they beat security officers and destroy machinery at the Wakyae jade mine.

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.

One person died on Monday in a clash between security forces and migrant workers trying to scavenge gems at the Wakyae jade mine in the resource-rich Hpakant township mining region of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, sources at the scene said.

Witnesses told RFA’s Myanmar Service that 20-year-old Zaw Wai was killed when police opened fire to stop about 1,000 jade scavengers who were entering the mine, while others said he had died during a clash between police and the scavengers.

The migrant workers beat security officer Kyaw Swe Oo and destroyed some machines owned by the company that operates the mine, said Kachin state police officer Colonel Ye Tun Oo, adding that a few “masterminds” were behind the riot.

“Six policemen led by Police Sergeant Myo Min Oo were there at that time,” he said. “Police tried to stop the scavengers, and officer Kyaw Swe Oo opened fired because police couldn’t stop them. Zaw Wai was then killed.”

The incident comes amid growing tensions between companies working at jade-mining sites, and scavengers trespassing on authorized mining areas searching for cast-off stones to sell.

In May, guards working at the Nansibon Jade Mine near Hkamti township killed four migrant workers and wounded 11 others trying to search for cast-off stones at the site when they fired on them.

The area had 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.

The growing number of accidents prompted Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Minister Ohn Win to vow last August to keep migrant workers out of Myanmar’s jade mining sites.

At the time, he said the government would begin checking entrances to the mining areas for illegal migrant workers in an effort to stop the scavengers and send them back to their home villages.

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