At least two people have died and dozens remain missing after a deadly Myanmar jade mine landslide, with rescuers warning Thursday they did not expect to find any survivors.
Scores die each year working in the country’s lucrative but poorly regulated jade trade, which sees low-paid migrant workers scrape out gems highly coveted in neighbouring China.
Working against the fog and rain, rescuers pulled a second body from a nearby lake after the incident on Wednesday in northern Hpakant township near the Chinese border.
At least 20 people remain missing, but rescuers said they feared scores more were unaccounted for as families are hesitant to admit their relatives were present given a junta ban on digging until March 2022.
Search teams found a 55-year-old man Thursday morning in an operation initially delayed by fog and overnight rain they had feared would make the terrain more unstable, said rescuer Ko Nyi.
“Our team uses hooks to find the dead bodies under water, and his body got caught on the hook,” he said.
“If the dead bodies don’t float today, they will appear in the following days, that’s nature,” he added.
Hundreds of diggers had returned to Hpakant during the rainy season to prospect in the treacherous open-cast mines, according to a local activist.
Rescuers said increased pressure from the weight of dumped soil and rock had pushed the ground downhill into the nearby lake.
– ‘Haunting reminder’ –
The incident is the latest tragedy to hit the poorly regulated multi-billion-dollar industry.
Jade and other abundant natural resources in northern Myanmar — including timber, gold and amber — have helped finance both sides of a decades-long civil war between ethnic Kachin insurgents and the military.
Civilians are frequently trapped in the middle of the fight for control of the mines and their lucrative revenues, with a rampant drug and arms trade further curdling the conflict.
Last year, heavy rainfall triggered a massive landslide in Hpakant that entombed nearly 300 miners.
Watchdog Global Witness estimated that the industry was worth some $31 billion in 2014.
But corruption means very little reaches state coffers.
A February military coup also effectively extinguished any chance of reforms to the dangerous and unregulated industry initiated by ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, a Global Witness report said earlier this year.
The coup has also sparked fighting in Kachin state between local insurgents and the Myanmar military, the watchdog said.
Wednesday’s disaster “is a haunting reminder that lives too often come second to profit in the jade mines of Hpakant,” Hanna Hindstrom, Senior Campaigner for Myanmar at Global Witness, told AFP.
“As the military is busy turning the sector into a financial lifeline for its illegitimate regime, once again miners are paying the ultimate price.”
On Wednesday a five-day junta-run jade emporium “concluded successfully,” according to the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, adding all jade lots on sale had been sold to domestic and international buyers.
Source: Bangkok Post