At least 17 people are feared dead after a landslide trapped dozens of workers inside a Myanmar jade mine, sources and local media said Tuesday.
The incident came on Monday evening near Hpakant township in northern Kachin state, the same region where a massive landslide in 2020 entombed 300 workers in the country’s worst ever mine disaster.
Pictures of the scene showed the aftermath of the landslide, with a broad swathe of brown earth and rock covering the pockmarked side of a hill.
A local source said “17 bodies were found so far”, but AFP was unable to independently confirm these figures.
The source added that the mine’s owners- Yangon Technical and Trading Co., a firm linked to the country’s military which took power last year in a coup that sent the country into turmoil — had so far prevented rescue teams from entering the area.
Local media and sources in the area said that 40 people were buried in the landslide, which struck around 10:30 pm (1630 GMT).
Dozens die annually while working in Myanmar’s highly lucrative but poorly regulated jade industry, which uses low-paid migrant workers to scrape out a gem highly coveted in neighbouring China.
Jade and other abundant natural resources in the country’s north, including timber, gold and amber have helped finance both sides of a decades-long civil war between ethnic Kachin insurgents and the military.
Civilians are frequently trapped in the middle of the fight for control of the mines and their lucrative revenues, with a rampant drug and arms trade further curdling the conflict.
“The workers’ rights in jade mines are never ensured by law whenever they die in a landslide, they get a small compensation in the end,” said one local environmental activist, who declined to be named.
The military coup in February 2021 also effectively extinguished any chance of reforms to the dangerous and unregulated industry, watchdog Global Witness said in a report this year.