A landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar has left more than 30 people missing, according to a local official who was leading a search and rescue operation.
The official spoke Monday on condition of anonymity. He said he feared being arrested by Myanmar’s brutal military, which ousted the country’s civilian government in a 2021 coup.
The landslide occurred on Sunday in Hpakant, a remote, mountainous town in the northern state of Kachin. The area is the epicenter of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mines. Miners toil there in notoriously dangerous conditions, and deadly landslides are common during the monsoon season.
The official said miners had been swept into a lake when the landslide struck at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Earth and debris from several nearby mines slid down a cliff into the lake below, striking the miners on the way, he said.
Thirty-four people were missing, and rescuers were searching the lake, the official said. Eight miners had been taken to a hospital on Sunday after being injured in the landslide, he said.
In July 2020, at least 162 people died in a landslide in the same area. A November 2015 accident left 113 dead.
The victims are usually wildcat miners who settle near giant mounds of discarded earth, excavated by mining companies’ heavy machinery. They scavenge for bits of jade and usually work and live in abandoned mining pits at the base of the unstable mounds of earth. Most are unregistered migrants from other areas.
Human rights activists say jade mining is an important source of revenue for Myanmar’s military government. Opponents of military rule have called for sanctions and boycotts targeting jade sales.
The mines are also a main source of revenue for the Kachin Independence Army, an ethnic armed group that is based in Kachin State and has fought for decades against the central government for greater autonomy.
A cease-fire in the region was disrupted after the military seized power in February 2021. The region is now embroiled in an armed conflict between the military and the Kachin Independence Army, which has driven many civilians into refugee camps and nearby townships.