At least 14 people have been killed and about 100 more injured after a fire broke out at an oil pipeline in central Myanmar, according to an government official.
Authorities were battling the blaze on Monday, which appeared to have been ignited accidentally by local villagers who were collecting oil leaking from the pipeline near Pakokku town in the Magway region.
“At least 14 people were killed,” said the official, who did not want to be named. “There could be more casualties.”
The fire began after about 200 villagers started collecting oil from the leaking pipeline on Sunday and lit a flame to see in the dark, according to the official.
A local resident in Pakokku said “many people” were believed to have been taken to two local hospitals.
The official said the authorities had shut down a 32km-long government-owned pipeline after the fire started.
Myanmar, with nearly a third of the population living below the poverty line, is rich in natural resources including oil and gas, according to World Bank figures.
The country’s military rulers exploit raw materials for their own benefit as the resources are snapped up by major energy-hungry Asian economies such as China, India and Thailand.
Total of France and Chevron of the US are two of the biggest Western companies in Myanmar and have faced criticism from rights groups for their dealings with the regime.
Myanmar is due to hold its first election in 20 years on November 7 but Western nations have said the vote will not be credible unless Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained democracy leader, is freed.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won the last polls in 1990 by a landslide but the military never allowed the party to take power.
She has spent much of the past 20 years in jail or under house arrest and is barred from standing in the next polls because she is a serving prisoner.
The NLD has been dissolved by the authorities because it chose to boycott next month’s vote, saying the rules were unfair.
Myanmar has said foreign election observers and international media will not be allowed into the country for the vote.