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Two jade scavengers from Lower Burma were brutally beaten up by a group of unknown assailants in Hpakant, Kachin State, according to Shwe Thein, the chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the local town of Seikmaw.
“The two men were scavenging for jade in an excavation site operated by the San Shwin Company,” he told DVB. “At around 5pm on Sunday evening, they were abducted by a group of men, who took them in a car to an abandoned village. They were tied to bamboo poles and tortured. And they were warned not to scavenge on a ‘Kachin’ site.
“They were beaten black and blue and dumped at a crossroads around 11pm.”
The local NLD chairman identified the victims as Soe Win Thein and Than Htay. He said the former is now receiving medical assistance at Hpakant Hospital, while the latter had left town, reportedly to return home to Lower Burma.
Shwe Thein said they did not dare file a police report for fear of reprisals.
He said that around 200 jade scavengers live at the San Shwin work site, the overwhelming majority being ethnic Kachin.
Shwe Thein said that the operations in the area are “virtually lawless”, and that he too had received threats not to become involved in this case.
He said he had reported these threats to local police and to his party headquarters.
Around 50 mining companies operate in Hpakant’s rich jade mines, an industry that attracts thousands of itinerant workers, many of whom subsist by digging through the mountain-sized heaps of discarded earth in search of jade scraps.
A recent report by international watchdog Global Witness estimated that the rampantly corrupt and unregulated business is worth some US$31 billion.
Soon after winning last year’s elections, the now-ruling NLD promised to do more to regulate Hpakant’s lawless jade mines after a landslide in November 2015 claimed nearly 200 lives.