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    Six dead, dozens missing in Myanmar jade mining disaster

    Civil societySix dead, dozens missing in Myanmar jade mining disaster
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    Six dead, dozens missing in Myanmar jade mining disaster

    Rescue personnel have called off operations after locating the bodies of six persons from among the dead and the dozens who have gone missing following a massive landslide in Myanmar’s northern state of Kachin on December 22.

    At least six persons have died and dozens have gone missing following a massive landslide struck the Hpakant township in Myanmar’s northern state of Kachin on December 22, according to reports trickling into the country’s capital city Naypyidaw. Fire service officials have called off operations.

    Information is scarce since the ruling junta’s State Administration Council (SAC) imposed an internet blackout on the township since August 2021.

    The miners were mining for jade.

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    A government official visiting Hpakant described the mine as an old, abandoned mine, an aid worker said. The official described the dead and missing people as independent miners, the aid worker who wishes to remain unidentified told OWSA. He said that this is the second such disaster in a week.

    Vested interests

    A licensing suspension had been imposed by the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government that was toppled following the Myanmar military’s coup of February this year. The suspension of the license has been extended by the State Administration Council (SAC). The law makes all jade mining in the region illegal.

    But independent sources say that there are vested interests and that military battalions, militias and ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organisation, continue to oversee mining activities.

    The licensing suspension followed a disaster in the same township on 2 July 2020. The Myanmar fire services department had then reported that 174 had died in the disaster that also left 54 injured. The landslide was caused by heavy rain, according to the fire service. The rain set off a fatal wave of mud and torrents of water onto the mine where dozens of informal jade ore miners were working in the mine pit, burying many of them under the thick layer of mud. Many miners were daily-waged migrants from different parts of the country.

    A law was passed by the government in 2018 to regulate and ensure safer and sustainable gemstone mining. But this has not been effectively implemented because the government lacks the machinery required to implement the law. Only a handful number of inspectors were authorised to stop illegal mining.

    Myanmar’s annual jade trade is said to be worth over UDS 30 billion, and campaigners accuse the military, insurgent groups and business interests connected to the military rulers of not allowing for the law’s implementation.

    Junta leaders profiting from mining

    “Today’s disaster is a haunting reminder that lives too often come second to profit in the jade mines of Hpakant, where a toxic combination of lawlessness, conflict and corruption has set the stage for yet another preventable tragedy,” says Hanna Hindstrom, Senior Campaigner at UK-based non-profit, Global Witness.

    The organisation accuses the military – including the family of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing – of profiting from the sector. Last week, the organisation says, Min Aung Hlaing made an appearance in Nay Pyi Taw at a five-day jade emporium, staged in an apparent bid to secure international currency for his regime.

    Hindstrom warns, “The military must not be allowed to use the deadly jade sector as a financial artery for its unlawful regime. People in Kachin and across the country will pay with their lives.”

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