Lifeguards lose hope for dozens of missing in Burmese mine

December 23, 2021

Rescuers in northern Burma on Thursday recovered two more bodies after the previous landslide in a jade mine, warning that dozens of people still missing could be dead.

The two bodies were recovered from a lake near the mine, bringing the death toll confirmed by Wednesday’s tragedy to three, when rescue efforts were suspended by nighttime fog and rain.

“If the corpses do not come out today, they will appear in the next few days. It is nature,” rescuer Ko Nyi told AFP.

The event took place in Hpakant, near the Chinese border and the heart of the lucrative but opaque jade industry, which generates half of Burma’s Gross Domestic Product.

The authorities initially indicated that at least 70 people were missing, but later clarified that they are still trying to confirm how many workers remain without being located.

A local activist indicated that hundreds of workers returned to Hpakant during the rainy season to exploit the open pit mines despite the ban imposed by the board until March 2022.

One of the 23-year-old missing arrived from Yinmar Pin, hundreds of km away in central Burma, authorities said.

The weather cleared Thursday, said Ko Jack of the Burma Rescue Organization, adding that six relief teams were searching for possible survivors.

“The search is going well and without difficulties because it is sunny,” he added.

– Bleak memory –

Dozens of people die each year working in this poorly regulated industry, which often exploits poorly paid migrants to extract these much-desired stones in China.

Jade and other natural resources that abound in northern Burma, including wood, gold and amber, have helped finance both sides of a protracted civil war between Kachin insurgents.

In 2020, heavy monsoon rains caused the worst catastrophe, with 300 miners buried by a landslide in the Hpakant massif itself.

The February military coup dashed hopes for a sector reform begun under ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the organization Global Witness said in a 2021 report.

The coup also reignited fighting in Kachin state between local ethnic insurgents and the Burmese armed forces, according to the organization.

Wednesday’s tragedy “is a stark reminder that lives are often less important than profits at the Hpakant jade mines,” Hanna Hindstrom, Global Witness activist for Burma, told AFP.

“The military is busy turning the sector into a financial lifeline for their illegitimate regime, and again the miners are the ones paying the price,” he said.

On Wednesday, a five-day jade sale organized by the board “came to a successful conclusion,” according to the state newspaper Global New Light, which said all lots of jade were sold to local and international buyers.