Villagers End Protest of Jade Mining Companies in Northern Myanmar

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Miners-for-hire ride on a truck near a jade mine in Hpakant township in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, Oct. 4, 2015.
Miners-for-hire ride on a truck near a jade mine in Hpakant township in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, Oct. 4, 2015.

Residents of three villages in the Hpakant jade mining region in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state have temporarily agreed to end a three-day protest that began Saturday against mining companies whose trucks transport and dump mountains of waste from worksites in the area, a local political leader said.

Locals are worried that a series of deadly landslides from improperly dumped waste soil will continue in the area, especially during the heavy rains of the June-October monsoon season, and endanger the lives of those who live near the sites, said Shwe Thein, chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party for the Seik Mu village tract.

Representatives from the companies, protesters and departmental officials met on Tuesday to inspect the sites and later reached the temporary agreement, he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Residents agreed to temporarily stop blocking roads used by the trucks, while the companies said they would stop transporting mining waste until the Ministry of Mines issued a decision on the matter, he said.

“The protesters reached an understanding to end the protests and lift the blockade on the condition that the companies stop dumping,” Shwe Thein said.

“The villagers want the trucks to stop dumping, but officials said they have no authority to stop it completely,” he said. “Only the Union government can do it, so they [villagers] will forward the issue to the Ministry of Mines.”

The road blockages had caused at least 10 companies in the area to temporarily cease operations during the past few days, according to a report by Eleven Myanmar media group.

Deadly business

In January, at least five landslides occurred at refuse sites around jade mines in Hpakant township, leaving six dead and dozens trapped beneath rubble.

Last November, a 200-foot pile of dirt and other material from mining activities collapsed in Hpakant, engulfing huts in an encampment of itinerant jade scavengers and their families and killing more than 100 people.

Hpakant, which lies  651 kilometers (404 miles) north of the 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.

Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwoman of the NLD, which won national elections on Nov. 8, called for increased safety measures and government oversight of the industry following the deadly landslide.

The transfer of power to the NLD from the current union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) government led by President Thein Sein will take place in March.

Roughly 630 companies, including many Chinese-led firms, are engaged in the jade mining industry on 22,500 acres of land around Hpakant, according to the Myanmar government.

Yet, the country’s U.S. $31 billion jade industry continues to be secretly controlled by networks of military elites, drug lords and crony companies linked to the country’s former military leaders, according to a report issued last October by the London-based environmental advocacy group Global Witness.

Reported by Wai Mar Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.





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