Fading light forced Myanmar rescuers to call off a search for dozens of people feared missing after a landslide near a jade mine that killed at least one person, emergency workers told AFP on Wednesday.
Scores die each year working in the country’s lucrative but poorly regulated jade trade, which sees low-paid migrant workers scrape out gems highly coveted in neighbouring China.
Rescuers initially said at least 70 were feared missing after the landslide struck around 4:00 am (2130 GMT Tuesday), but later added they were still trying to confirm that number.
“It seems they are buried underneath soil. It’s cold here that’s why we have stopped, but will continue.
Hundreds of diggers had returned to Hpakant during the rainy season to prospect in the treacherous open-cast mines, according to a local activist, despite a junta ban on digging until March 2022.
Ko Nyi of the rescue team also said increased pressure from the weight of dumped soil and rock had pushed the ground downhill into the nearby lake.
Pictures posted by Myanmar’s fire services showed dozens of people lined up along the lakeshore and rescuers carrying an unidentified object up from the water.
Access to the mines in the remote north of the country is heavily restricted by the military and internet access is patchy.
– Deadly industry –
Civilians are frequently trapped in the middle of the fight for control of the mines and their lucrative revenues, with a rampant drug and arms trade further curdling the conflict.
Watchdog Global Witness estimated that the industry was worth some $31 billion in 2014.
A February military coup also effectively extinguished any chance of reforms to the dangerous and unregulated industry initiated by ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, Global Witness said in a report this year.
“Today’s disaster is a haunting reminder that lives too often come second to profit in the jade mines of Hpakant,” Hanna Hindstrom, Senior Campaigner for Myanmar at Global Witness, told AFP.