More bodies to be buried in mass grave after Myanmar jade mine landslide

More than 170 people died after mining waste collapsed into a lake, triggering a surge of mud and water. PHOTO: AFP

HPAKANT (REUTERS) - Dozens more jade miners killed in a landslide in northern Myanmar will be buried on Saturday (July 4), a local official said, after 77 others were interred in a mass grave on Friday following one of the worst mining accidents in the country's history.

More than 170 people, many of them migrants seeking their fortune in the jade-rich Hpakant area of Kachin state, died on Thursday after mining waste collapsed into a lake, triggering a surge of mud and water.

The miners were collecting stones in Hpakant - the centre of Myanmar's secretive billion-dollar jade industry - when the wave crashed onto them, entombing them under a layer of mud.

Thar Lin Maung, a local official from the information ministry, told Reuters by phone on Saturday that 171 bodies had been pulled out but more were continuing to float to the surface.

He said the 77 buried on Friday had been identified and 39 would be interred on Saturday. Volunteers carried plywood coffins and placed them into a mass grave carved out by diggers close to the mine site.

Many other bodies, battered and stripped of their clothing by the force of the wave that hit them, still have not been identified.

Myanmar supplies 90 per cent of the world's jade, the vast majority of which is exported to neighbouring China, which borders Kachin state. Deadly landslides and other accidents are common in the mines, which draw impoverished workers from across Myanmar.

About 100 people were killed in a 2015 collapse that led to calls to regulate the industry. Another 50 died in 2019. But Thursday's landslide was the worst in memory.

The country's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Friday blamed the disaster on joblessness in the country, lamenting in a Facebook Live broadcast that informal workers had to go to the mines for lack of other employment.

The government announced the formation of a committee to investigate the disaster.

However, activists say little has changed in the industry despite a pledge from Suu Kyi's government to clean it up when she took power in 2016.

Rights group Global Witness said in a statement the landslide was a "damning indictment of the government's failure to curb reckless and irresponsible mining practices."

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"Neither a promised new gemstone law, passed by Parliament in 2019, nor a gemstone policy that has been in production for several years have yet been implemented," the statement said.

The rights group says the trade is worth billions of dollars a year, funds it says fuel armed conflict between government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels fighting for greater autonomy for the region.

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