YANGON: At least 11 people died in a landslide in a remote jade mining region of northern Myanmar with many more feared missing, authorities said Tuesday, in the latest deadly incident to hit the shadowy industry.
Locals and officials are searching for bodies after a wall of unstable earth collapsed during a downpour on Monday night in Hpakant, Kachin State, the war-torn area that feeds a huge demand for the precious stone in neighbouring China.
“We have found 11 dead bodies so far. When the landslide happened, about 50 people were searching for jade,” Nilar Myint, a local official from Hpakant told AFP.
“Heavy rain has been falling the whole night,” she added.
A local police officer told AFP the rescue operation is ongoing.
The area has suffered a string of deadly landslides, with a major incident last November killing 100, and dozens of other smaller accidents leaving scores more dead and injured.
Those killed are usually itinerant workers searching for pieces of jade left behind by large-scale industrial mining firms.
A local and former NGO worker told AFP that hundreds of people have been searching the mines during Myanmar’s rainy season, when major firms cease operations.
“We think about 200 people were working in that area when landslide occurred last night… there could be many more casualties,” the NGO employee said on the condition of anonymity.
In an October report, corruption watchdog Global Witness estimated that Myanmar jade produced in 2014 alone was worth $31 billion, with most profits going to powerful military and ex-junta figures instead of the state coffers.
The group said the secretive jade industry might be the “biggest natural resource heist in modern history”.