YANGON (AFP) - Rescuers are searching for more than 20 miners buried by a landslideat a jade mine in remote war-torn northern Myanmar that killed at least nine people, state media reported on Wednesday.
The latest fatal accident to hit the country's secretive gem industry occurred when a huge mound of loose earth that miners were combing through beside the mine in Hpakant town, Kachin state, partially collapsed in the early hours of Monday.
The authorities were alerted to the incident after two injured men were taken to the local hospital, according to the Myanma Alinn newspaper. "There were 30 people buried," the report said, adding that five bodies were discovered on Monday morning and a further four were found later that day.
It said the search was ongoing, without giving further details.
Hpakant is a magnet for prospectors who pick through rubble on perilous slopes left by mining firms in the hope of unearthing overlooked lumps of jade.
Accidents and landslides at the mines are commonplace.
In January, four people were killed in a landslide after heavy rains loosened a heap of debris next to a jade mine in the area.
Up to 90 per cent of the world's jadeite - the most sought-after type of jade - is mined in Hpakant, feeding a vast appetite for the green stone in Asia and particularly China, where it is believed to ward off evil spirits and improve health.
The famously murky trade remains highly lucrative, although the exact revenues from sales of the precious stone remain cloaked in secrecy, despite reforms by a quasi-civilian government aimed at opening up the resource-rich nation.
Activities in the area have been disrupted in recent months by unrest between government troops and local ethnic minority rebels.
Some 100,000 people have been displaced in the state since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army broke down in June 2011.
Myanmar on Tuesday hailed a draft national ceasefire with 16 of the country's armed rebel groups as it looks to end the civil wars that have plagued the former junta-run nation for over half a century.
But a full agreement can only be officially signed after further consultation and a conference of the ethnic armed groups, for which no date has so far been set.
And it is unclear what effect the deal may have on unrest in Kachin and neighbouring Shan state.