By Thu Thu Aung and Sam Aung Moon
YANGON (Reuters) – A landslide at a Myanmar jade mine killed 14 people including at least one policemen in the early hours of Sunday as earth and mud engulfed a guard post, and four people were missing and feared dead, police said.
The jade hub of Hpakant, in Kachin State in the north of the north of the country, is frequently hit by deadly accidents, despite government pledges to clean up the lucrative mining industry.
In April, 55 mining company employees were killed when a pond up a slope from where they were digging breached its banks, leading authorities to suspended 17 mining blocks over safety concerns.
The police chief in the area, Than Win Aung, told Reuters from the accident site that 14 bodies had been recovered and four people, two of them policeman who were guarding the mining site, were missing and feared dead.
“We were able to rescue two members of the police who only injured their heads, and sent them to hospital,” he said.
One policeman was confirmed dead, he said.
The government has ordered all mining activity in Hpakant to cease during Myanmar’s May-October monsoon season, but people in the area say scavengers still scour tailing piles for jade.
“The companies aren’t operating because of the water,” said Than Win Aung. “Security people are on duty in order to prevent landslides due to illegal mining.”
Yau Dau, 25, who lives next to the mining site, said the landslide happened after midnight.
“I was still awake. The sound of the landslide was really frightening. I thought we’re gone … our house was shaking,” he said.
Official sales of jade in Myanmar were worth 671 million euros ($750.04 million) in 2016-17, according to the most recent data published by the government as part of an Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
But analysts believe the true value of the industry, which mainly exports to China, is much larger.
(Writing by Simon Lewis)