YANGON – More than 50 people are feared killed after a landslide in northern Myanmar engulfed jade miners while they were sleeping, local police said Tuesday, the latest deadly accident in a notoriously dangerous industry.
Dozens die each year in landslides caused by jade mining, a corrupt and poorly regulated industry concentrated near the country’s border with China.
Local police described a freak accident in Kachin state on Monday night so big it created a huge “mud lake” that buried the miners as well as some 40 vehicles.
“Fifty-four people are missing in the mud,” a duty officer from Hpakant township police station said, asking not to be named, adding that only two bodies had been recovered so far.
“There’s no way they (the missing) could have survived.”
The Ministry of Information confirmed the accident and number of missing, adding that the area was mined by Myanmar Thura Gems and Shwe Nagar Koe Kaung companies.
Myanmar Thura Gems director Hla Soe Oo said by phone he was en route to the site but did not have further details.
Local media shared images, unverified by AFP, that showed the walls of a mine stretching vertically a couple of hundred meters above a vast pool of mud, revealing only the tops of two yellow excavation vehicles.
Hundreds of onlookers gathered nearby, staring at the disaster site and taking photos with their phones.
Fatal landslides are common in the mines with victims often from impoverished ethnic communities looking for scraps left behind by big firms.
A major landslide in November 2015 left more than 100 dead.
The jade industry is largely driven by an insatiable demand from neighboring China.
Watchdog Global Witness estimated that it was worth some $31 billion in 2014, although very little reaches state coffers.
Northern Myanmar’s abundant natural resources — including jade, timber, gold and amber — help finance both sides of a decadeslong civil war between ethnic Kachin insurgents and the military.
The fight to control the mines and the revenues they bring frequently traps local civilians in the middle.
A 17-year cease-fire broke down in 2011 and since then more than 100,000 people have been displaced by fighting.
On coming to power in 2016, civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi promised to make the peace process with the country’s myriad armed groups her top priority — a pledge that has yet to yield significant results.