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Unsafe conditions cause more deaths in Myanmar's jade mines

24 December, 2021The death of at least 3 jade miners in a landslide at Hpakant, Myanmar on 22 December highlights the urgency to curb unsafe mining practices and protect miners’ lives.

The landslide occurred amid heavy rainfalls in the monsoon season. 70 jade miners were swept into a large mining pond, so far rescuers have found the bodies of three miners.  

In 2020, more than 160 jade miners were killed in another landslide in Hpakant. Studies show that the landslides were mainly caused by unsafe mining practices implemented by mining companies.

A report by Global Witness details that the jade mine license suspension in 2016 by the National League for Democracy government (NLD) had failed to address main issues like the domination of military-linked companies in the industry, multi-level corruption and armed conflicts in the region.

Given the license suspension and the expiration of the existing licenses in March 2021, mine companies abandoned the practice of transporting mine waste to dumping sites designated by the authority.
Instead, the companies dumped the waste on the site. Consequently, the mine slopes became unstable and large tailing ponds were formed.

The artisanal jade pickers, the common victims of the mine landslides, searche jade rocks at tailings day and night. The number of jade pickers, mostly migrants from other states, has doubled in the last five years in the uncertain situation after the expiration of the mine licenses.

The Global Witness report also expose the financial flow from the jade mine industry to the Myanmar junta.

In 2016, military-owned Myanma Economic Holdings Limited controlled 600 jade mining licenses through subsidiary companies,. The companies are linked to junta leaders like Than Shwe, Ohn Myint, Aung Thaung, and Maung Maung Thein.

The current state administration council Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power in the coup d’etat in February, received a dividend payment of US$250,000 in 2010-2011. His son Aung Pyae Sone has allegedly profited from illegal mining and import of dynamite into the Hpakant area.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, says:

“The vicious cycle of unsafe mining must end and workers’ lives must be protected. Sound safety practices must be imposed. However, this cannot be done under the military regime that benefits from the current unsafe practices. The National Unity Government must be made a legitimate Myanmar government to continue the reforms put in place by the NLD government in 2016.

“It is crucial for a democratically-elected government to demilitarize the jade mine industry, implement a sound industry safety standard and eliminate corruption at the union, state and regional level.”

Image: landslide in Myanmar jade mine in 2015