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Bishop calls for human dignity in Myanmar jade mining

Plea to stiffen regulation of the deadly industry in Kachin State while protecting the environment

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Bishop calls for human dignity in Myanmar jade mining

Rescue teams search for the bodies of miners killed in a landslide at a jade mine in Hpakant in Myanmar's Kachin State in November 2015. Two recent disasters have brought a call from Bishop Francis Daw Tang for better regulations. (Photo by AFP)

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Bishop Francis Daw Tang of Myitkyina has called on Myanmar's stakeholders to urgently improve jade mining regulations and protect the environment.

He said there are no proper regulations or systems for properly managing soil dumps that have killed hundreds of people annually in conflict-stricken Kachin State.

"We must respect human dignity as small-scale miners come for opportunities by risking their lives," Bishop Tang told ucanews.com.

He said local authorities need to give warnings to miners about hazards, especially in the rainy season, while the government and companies need to consider the environmental effects of jade mining.

"The concerned parties — the government, companies and civil society — need to discuss openly and draw a framework for proper regulations, practices for managing soil dumps and saving the environment," Bishop Tang said.

The bishop, who visited the jade region of Hpakant last December, warned that if stakeholders failed to fix this important issue, more lives would be lost and the environment ruined.

Environmental issues, drugs, human trafficking and internally displaced persons will be on the agenda at a meeting of the three dioceses of Myitkyina, Banmaw and Lashio in August or September.

"After the meeting, we will release details of the church's stance," Bishop Tang said.

At least 27 people were missing or feared dead following the collapse of a slag heap at a jade mine in Kachin State on July 24. It was the second deadly mining disaster in 10 days after at least 22 were killed, 63 injured and four left missing in a July 14 landslide.

The worst jade mine accident occurred when a landslide killed 110 migrant workers on Nov. 21, 2015.

Bishop Tang asserted that the military, which remains a key player in Myanmar's politics, needs to have a compromise with other stakeholders to carry out resource sharing.

"All stakeholders need to negotiate for the sake of all people and benefits for the development of the people," he told ucanews.com.

Myanmar's civilian government faces the daunting task of managing resources, which includes dealing with firms that have close ties with the military.

Decades of ethnic conflict in Myanmar's northern borderlands have been aggravated by a fight for natural resources such as jade, timber, amber, gold and hydropower.

Resource-rich Kachin State, which is 90 percent Christian, has been beset by sporadic fighting for decades. More than 100,000 people remain displaced since fighting restarted in 2011.

Myanmar produced US$31 billion worth of jade in 2014, about 50 percent of the impoverished nation's declared gross domestic product, according to Global Witness.

Most of the precious stone ends up being sold on China's black market, while almost all the revenue goes into the pockets of the military elite, its report said.

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