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Deadly landslide highlights perils of Myanmar's jade industry

With 54 miners feared dead, bishop calls for better regulation of the dangerous industry

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Deadly landslide highlights perils of Myanmar's jade industry

Search and rescue personnel gather at the jade mine in Hpakant in Myanmar's Kachin State where at least 54 miners are feared dead after a landslide engulfed them while they were sleeping on April 23. (AFP photo)

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The latest fatal landslide at a jade mine in Myanmar’s Kachin State has highlighted the urgent need to improve rules and regulations in the industry.

Bishop Francis Daw Tang of Myitkyina said workers pay the price for the lack of regulations in the dangerous jade mining sector.

“The government is trying to improve rules and regulations but faces a challenge as old practices and a lack of transparency remain,” Bishop Tang told ucanews.com.

At least 54 miners are feared dead after a landslide buried workers and machinery from two mining companies in a “mud lake” at their living quarters in Hpakant on April 22, according to a report by the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper on April 24.

“Three bodies were recovered on April 23 and 51 are still missing,” said the report, adding that local authorities are carrying out preventive measures in areas where the mine walls could break.

La Ja, a catechist from Hpakant township, said another accident happened on the night of April 23 and two people were taken to hospital.

He said police and firefighters were deployed at the mine and rescuers were still searching for bodies.

“The accident is the result of bad practices of soil dumping by companies,” La Ja, an ethnic Kachin, told ucanews.com.

The missing miners are not migrant workers, he said.

Landslides and accidents are not uncommon in jade mines. The highly lucrative industry is shrouded in secrecy and rife with corruption. The worst jade mine accident occurred when a landslide killed 110 migrant workers on Nov. 21, 2015.

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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