By Aung Hla Tun
Nearly 80 bodies have been pulled from a landslide near a jade mine in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State and an estimated 100 people are still missing, a rescue official said on Sunday.
The landslide happened in the early hours in Hpakant, an area that produces some of the world’s highest quality jade, but the mines and dump sites for debris are rife with hazards. Workers, many of them migrants from other parts of the country, toil long hours for little pay.
“So far we have found nearly 80 bodies from the collapsed dump as we continue searching for the missing,” an official from the Hpakant Township Fire Brigade told Reuters by telephone.
The official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that the accident occurred near a mining site controlled by Triple One Jade Mining at around 3 a.m.
A local lawmaker and another rescue worker also confirmed the figures.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Sunday that many of the miners were sleeping in huts when the landslide occurred.
Myanmar’s jade industry is extremely opaque and much of the jade that is mined in Hpakant is believed to be smuggled to neighbouring China where the stone is highly valued.
According to researchers from environmental advocacy group Global Witness, which published a comprehensive report on the sector earlier this year, the value of jade production in Myanmar is estimated to have been as much as US$31 billion in 2014.
Many of the jade mines are connected to government officials, members of armed ethnic groups and cronies with close ties to the former military government, the group found.