Landslide at Myanmar jade mine kills more than a dozen

Police say at least 14 killed and four others feared dead after accident in Hpakant township in northern Myanmar.

    People stand atop a ridge overlooking the scene of a mudslide at a jade mine that killed 50 people in April [File: Zaw Moe Htet/AP]
    People stand atop a ridge overlooking the scene of a mudslide at a jade mine that killed 50 people in April [File: Zaw Moe Htet/AP]

    A landslide at a Myanmar jade mine has killed at least 14 people including a policeman, authorities said, as rescuers frantically searched for more victims.

    The accident happened early on Sunday in Hpakant township in the northern Kachin state, Myanmar's fire service said in a Facebook post. The jade hub in Hpakant is frequently hit by deadly accidents, despite government pledges to clean up the lucrative mining industry.

    Than Win Aung, the police chief in the area, told Reuters news agency that 14 bodies had been recovered following the accident. Four people - two of them policemen who were guarding the mining site - were missing and feared dead.

    One policeman was confirmed dead, he said. 

    "We were able to rescue two members of the police who only injured their heads, and sent them to hospital," he said.

    The government has ordered all mining activity in Hpakant to cease during Myanmar's May-October monsoon season, but people in the area say scavengers still scour tailings - the residue from mining - for jade.

    "The companies aren't operating because of the water," said Than Win Aung. "Security people are on duty in order to prevent landslides due to illegal mining."

    'I thought we're gone'

    Yau Dau, 25, who lives next to the mining site, said the landslide happened after midnight.

    "I was still awake. The sound of the landslide was really frightening. I thought we're gone ... our house was shaking," he told Reuters. 

    A police officer on the scene told AFP news agency the upper part of a mine collapsed and fell around 200 metres onto those sleeping below. Heavy rains had pounded the area over the last week, he said. 

    Dozens die each year in landslides caused by jade mining, a dangerous and poorly regulated industry in Kachin state between the country's borders with China and India.

    In April, 55 mining company employees were killed when a pond up a slope from where they were digging breached its banks, leading authorities to suspend 17 mining blocks over safety concerns.

    Many miners are from impoverished ethnic minority communities who risk their lives hunting the translucent green gemstone.

    Drug addiction among workers is also a major problem in Hpakant, which has been turned into a vast moonscape-like terrain by years of mining.

    Official sales of jade in Myanmar were worth $750m in 2016-17, according to the most recent data published by the government as part of an Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

    But analysts believe the true value of the industry, which mainly exports to China, is much larger.

    Corruption also means very little reaches state coffers.

    Jade and other abundant natural resources in northern Myanmar, including timber, gold and amber, have helped finance both sides of a decades-long civil war between ethnic Kachin rebels and the military.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies