Hundreds missing after second Hpakant jade pit landslide this week

Hundreds missing after second Hpakant jade pit landslide this week

Hundreds of jade pickers are missing after a landslide occurred in a Hpakant mine this morning. The incident is the second mass casualty accident to occur in Burma’s jade capital this week after an incident on Dec. 18 also led to the death and disappearance of dozens of miners. 

The junta had ordered mining operations to cease in August, yet as DVB has reported, after a very brief pause to allow for sham inspections, the military’s 33 Division is continuing to allow private firms to operate unsupervised in exchange for bribes. 

This morning’s landslide is said to have resulted from the collapse of a pile of rubble and mining waste which miners report had grown to be “as big as the mountains” since illegal operations restarted in Hpakant last week. 

At 4 a.m. on the Hmaw Si Sa side of the mines, at least 100 raw gemstone pickers were subsumed under a huge landslide whilst searching for stones, locals said.

“There will be more than 100 lost. We searched this morning because the rescue teams had not yet arrived,” said a local man who was looking for survivors.

Kachin News Group media, a regional news outlet, had earlier reported that at least 80 may have been killed in this most recent decent in an area prone to serious mining accidents.

The exact number of those missing remains unknown. Reports coming to DVB currently suggest that, as rescue crews prepare to search the debris, few pickers have made their way back from the site of the landslide.

Following an accident in the area four days previously, 200 rescuers from villages across Hpakant were unable to recover any bodies, a team leader told DVB yesterday.

“”The landslide happened at around midnight on the 18th. Today is the second day and bodies have not yet been found. The mining waste collapsed in three stages, causing the earth to collapse again and again. We can only wait for the corpses to rot,” he said.

One jade picker told DVB that most employers do not complain about workers lost whilst searching for raw gems for fear of being charged with mining without a permit.

Locals sources say that Hpakant’s jade lands have long been plagued by unregulated mining, landslides, mass deaths, and environmental degradation—and hold no hope for an end to the trend.

All permits for the mining of jade in the Hpakant region expired by order of the junta’s Ministry of Mines in August. However, as noted, the military’s 33 Division has allowed many to continue operations by taking large monthly kick-backs. 

As such, locals say, illicit mining, and the dangers associated with it, have risen sharply since the February coup.

Internet connectivity to the Hpakant region, which is a crucial money-spinner for the junta and its cronies, has now been cut for over four months. In June, human rights group Global Witness published a report suggesting that, even before the coup, between 70-90% of all jade mined in the Hpakant region is smuggled into China “without ever entering the formal system in Myanmar”.