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Monday 26 September 2016

At least 100 killed at gem mine as landslide buries workers alive

Esther Htusan

Published 23/11/2015 | 02:30

Onlookers at the scene of the landslide in Myanmar
Onlookers at the scene of the landslide in Myanmar

A landslide near a jade mine in northern Myanmar killed about 100 people, most of them villagers digging for the valuable green stones in a mountain of displaced earth.

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Hundreds of others are still missing as rescue workers sift through the debris.

The collapse occurred on a Saturday evening in the Kachin state community of Hpakant, said Brang Seng, a jade businessman, who watched as bodies were pulled from the rubble and taken to a hospital morgue.

"People were crying," he said, adding that some lost loved ones when boulders and earth ripped down the slopes. "I'm hearing that more than 100 people died. In some cases, entire families were lost."

Lamai Gum Ja, a community leader, said homes at the base of the mine dump had been flattened.

One local newspaper said many of the dead were asleep in huts when the landslide happened.

An estimated 100 to 200 people are still missing. Search and rescue teams combed through the rubble all day yesterday for survivors.

Kachin, around 950km northeast of Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, is home to some of the world's highest-quality jade.

The industry generated an estimated €30bn last year alone, with most of the wealth going to individuals and companies tied to Myanmar's former military rulers, according to Global Witness, a group that investigates misuse of resource revenues.

The jade industry's epicentre, Hpakant, remains desperately poor, with bumpy dirt roads, constant electricity blackouts and sky-high heroin addiction rates.

After Myanmar's former military rulers handed over power to a nominally civilian government five years ago, resulting in the lifting of many Western sanctions, the already rapid pace of mining turned frenetic.

No scrap of ground, no part of daily life in Hpakant is left untouched by the fleets of giant yellow trucks and backhoes that have sliced apart mountains and denuded once-plush landscape.

In the last year, dozens of small-scale miners have been maimed or lost their lives picking through tailing dumps.

"Large companies, many of them owned by families of former generals, army companies, cronies and drug lords, are making tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year through their plunder of Hpakant," said Mike Davis of Global Witness.

"Their legacy to local people is a dystopian wasteland in which scores of people at a time are buried alive in landslides," he said.

Irish Independent

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