Landslide at Myanmar jade mine kills at least 123 people

Rescuers attempt to locate survivors after a landslide at a jade mine in Hpakant, Kachin state in northern Myanmar on July 2, 2020. (Myanmar Fire Services Department/AFP)
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Updated 02 July 2020

Landslide at Myanmar jade mine kills at least 123 people

  • Search and rescue efforts had been suspended due to heavy rains

HPAKANT: At least 123 people were killed Thursday in a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar, the worst in a series of deadly accidents at such sites in recent years that critics blame on the government's failure to take action against unsafe conditions.
The Ministry of Information said 123 bodies were recovered from the landslide in Hpakant, the center of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry. The most detailed estimate of Myanmar’s jade industry said it generated about $31 billion in 2014.
Hpakant is a rough and remote area of Kachin state, 950 kilometers (600 miles) north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.
“The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud,” said a statement from the Myanmar Fire Service Department, which coordinates rescues and other emergency services. The army also took part in the recovery operation along with other government units and local volunteers.
The London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness said the accident “is a damning indictment of the government”s failure to curb reckless and irresponsible mining practices in Kachin state's jade mines."
“The government should immediately suspend large-scale, illegal and dangerous mining in Hpakant and ensure companies that engage in these practices are no longer able to operate,” it said in a statement.
At the site of the tragedy, a crowd gathered in the rain around corpses shrouded in blue and red plastic sheets placed in a row on the ground.
Emergency workers had to slog through heavy mud to retrieve bodies by wrapping them in the plastic sheets, which were then hung on crossed wooden poles shouldered by the recovery teams.
Khin Maung Myint, a lawmaker from Hpakant, earlier said that in addition to the dead, 54 other people were injured and sent to hospitals. An unknown number of people were feared missing.
Social activists have complained that the profitability of jade mining has led businesses and the government to neglect enforcement of already very weak regulations in the jade mining industry.
“The multi-billion dollar sector is dominated by powerful military-linked companies, armed groups and cronies that have been allowed to operate without effective social and environmental controls for years,” Global Witness said. Although the military is no longer directly in power in Myanmar, it is still a major force in government and exercises authority in remote regions.
Thursday's death toll surpasses that of a November 2015 accident that left 113 dead and was previously considered the country's worst. In that case, the victims died when a 60-meter (200-foot) -high mountain of earth and waste discarded by several mines tumbled in the middle of the night, covering more than 70 huts where miners slept.
Those killed in such accidents are usually freelance miners who settle near giant mounds of discarded earth that has been excavated by heavy machinery. The freelancers who scavenge for bits of jade usually work and live in abandoned mining pits at the base of the mounds of earth, which become particularly unstable during the rainy season.
Most scavengers are unregistered migrants from other areas, making it hard to determine exactly how many people are actually missing after such accidents and in many cases leaving the relatives of the dead in their home villages unaware of their fate.
Global Witness, which investigates misuse of revenues from natural resources, documented the $31 billion estimate for Myanmar's jade industry in a 2015 report that said most of the wealth went to individuals and companies tied to the country's former military rulers. More recent reliable figures are not readily available.
It said at the time the report was released that the legacy to local people of such business arrangements “is a dystopian wasteland in which scores of people at a time are buried alive in landslides.”
In its statement Thursday, Global Witness blamed the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, which came to power in 2016, for failing “to implement desperately needed reforms, allowing deadly mining practices to continue and gambling the lives of vulnerable workers in the country's jade mines.”
Jade mining also plays a role in the decades-old struggle of ethnic minority groups in Myanmar's borderlands to take more control of their own destiny.
The area where members of the Kachin minority are dominant is poverty stricken despite hosting lucrative deposits of rubies as well as jade.
The Kachin believe they are not getting a fair share of the profits from deals that the central government makes with mining companies.
Kachin guerrillas have engaged in intermittent but occasionally heavy combat with government troops.


UK relatives of Daesh ‘Beatles’ victims relieved as trial nears

Updated 42 min 49 sec ago

UK relatives of Daesh ‘Beatles’ victims relieved as trial nears

  • The evidence regarding El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey was transferred to Washington immediately after Tuesday’s court ruling
  • The pair, who have been stripped of UK citizenship, are in the custody of US forces in Iraq

LONDON: Relatives of two Britons killed by a Daesh cell on Wednesday welcomed a breakthrough that advances the US trial of two Londoners accused of their brutal deaths.
The families of Alan Henning and David Haines said a ruling by the London High Court permitting the UK government to share evidence with US authorities about the suspects was a “huge result for us.”
“We have only ever wanted to see these two men being held accountable and brought to justice through a fair trial for their alleged actions,” they said in a statement released by the charity Hostage International.
The evidence regarding El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey was transferred to Washington immediately after Tuesday’s court ruling.
The pair, who have been stripped of UK citizenship, are in the custody of US forces in Iraq.
Kotey and Elsheikh’s four-member cell was dubbed “the Beatles” by their captives due to their English accents. They are accused of torturing and killing victims, including by beheading, and Daesh released videos of the deaths for propaganda purposes.
A two-year legal impasse concerning the suspects was broken last month when Attorney General Bill Barr said they would be spared execution if convicted after trial in the United States.
The United States wants to try them for the murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid worker Peter Kassig, during 2014-2015.
Taxi driver Henning and former aircraft engineer Haines, who had both gone to Syria to do aid work, were beheaded in 2014.
Another of the cell’s alleged victims was British photojournalist John Cantlie, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and remains missing.
Cantlie’s sister Jessica Pocock told of the relatives’ intense frustration at the long legal wait.
“At times we felt absolutely desperate as to whether the legal system was ever going to be able to bring these two to justice — wherever they may be,” she told BBC radio.
“That was always terribly important to us to have a proper, fair trial. The families need nothing less than a fair trial,” she said.
The US Department of Justice welcomed the court ruling and expressed gratitude to Britain for transferring the evidence, although a trial date has yet to be set.