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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Waste landslide at Myanmar jade mining site kills 14

The bodies of jade scavengers who were killed in a landslide are covered in plastic and lined up at a hospital morgue Friday, May 4, 2018, in Hpakant, Kachine state in northern Myanmar. Hpakant is the epicenter of the world's best and lucrative jade mining industry that generated about $31 billion in 2015. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

BANGKOK – A landslide of a mound of mining waste killed at least 14 people Friday morning in northern Myanmar’s jade mining region, a local official said.

The accident near the Waikha mine also left six people injured and an unknown number believed missing, based on what local villagers reported, said Tu Mai, the administrator of Seng Tawng village in Kachin state’s Hpakant township. A search for them was continuing.

Hpakant, 600 miles north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, is the epicenter of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry. Jade is normally mined by heavy equipment that generates huge mounds of waste soil, which easily causes landslides.

The industry generated about $31 billion in 2014 with most of the wealth going to individuals and companies tied to Myanmar’s former military rulers, according to Global Witness, a London-based group that investigate misuse of revenues from natural resources.

People often settle near the mounds to scavenge for jade in the precariously high piles of waste. Fatal accidents are not rare and more than 100 people were killed in a single landslide in November 2015.

Local activists said the profitability of jade mining industry led businesses and the government to neglect enforcing already very weak regulations in the industry.

“The government’s plans to tackle the problem in the jade mining region are not practical,” said Tsa Ji, a researcher and member of a local activist organization, the Kachin Development Networking Group. “The authorities have passed the laws without really understanding how the mining companies are destroying the environment on a large scale.”

Hpakant, the heart of the jade mining region, is also enmeshed in the armed conflict between the government and the ethnic rebels of the Kachin Independence Army, in which the military has been launching offensives against local armed groups to control territory holding the jade mines.

Researchers said the civilian government led by leader Aung San Suu Kyi has done little or nothing to find a practical solution to the problems, which include environment degradation as well as safety.

“Many jade mining companies do not follow rules and regulations on where or how to dump waste pile,” said Maw Htun Awng, a mining governance researcher. “Then there are no actual mechanisms to watch if these companies are following these rules and that’s why this is part of the cumulative impacts.”