New Myanmar government to tighten safety after jade mine disaster

Rescue workers carry the body of a miner that was killed in the landslide at Hpa Kant jade mining area.
Rescue workers carry the body of a miner that was killed in the landslide at Hpa Kant jade mining area.PHOTO: EPA

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's newly elected government said on Tuesday (Nov 24) that it plans to tighten safety controls at the country's poorly regulated jade mines after a landslide swept over a mining encampment, resulting in a death toll expected to reach around 200 people.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a resounding victory in the country's Nov 8 polls, but her government could risk conflict with powerful vested interests controlling Myanmar's jade mines if it moves too forcefully to rein in their business.

The jade business is dominated by companies linked to leaders of the previous military government, ethnic armies and cronies with close connections to the former junta.

"We will have to review the existing regulations and if necessary will require the companies to have safe and adequate dump sites when they apply for licences," said Nyan Win, a senior member of the NLD and spokesman for the party.

The NLD will dominate the new parliament when it sits in February, though a quarter of seats are retained for unelected military officials.

"If existing regulations have this provision, we will have to enforce it," the NLD spokesman said.

The value of jade production in Myanmar is estimated to have been around US$31 billion (S$44 billion) in 2014, according to researchers from environmental advocacy group Global Witness.

Rescue workers were still searching for the bodies of some 100 missing people, having already recovered 113 following the disaster at a jade mine at Hpakant, in Myanmar's remote northern mountains.

The landslide was caused by a gigantic slag heap of debris excavated from mines, which subsided in the early hours of Saturday and slid over the makeshift settlement at its foot, burying the miners as they slept.

Poorly paid workers, many of them migrants from other parts of the country, work in the mines or pick over dump sites for pieces of the semi-precious stone that have been left behind.

Ye Htut, the spokesman for the President's Office, said that safety measures put in place by the state government following previous landslides were not followed and that the national government would need to take a more active role.

"The federal government needs to intervene to impose stricter restrictions," he said.