YANGON (Reuters) – A jade mine slag heap collapsed in northern Myanmar on Friday, killing at least 14 people, rescue officials said, the latest in a series of disasters to hit the largely unregulated gem industry.
Myanmar is a major gemstone producer and the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to tighten controls after a landslide in a jade mine killed more than 100 people in 2015 in Kachin state, the site of Friday’s collapse.
Friday’s accident happened in the early morning in the village of Wai Hka, when workers were scavenging through heaps of mining debris for discarded jade.
“I barely escaped… The soil bulk collapsed and killed people,” said miner Min Naung, 30.
Many jade mines are owned by companies linked to leaders of the previous military government, ethnic armies and Chinese firms. Workers, many of them migrants from elsewhere in Myanmar, toil long hours in dangerous conditions and for little pay.
“To safeguard people’s lives and to reduce the risk of landslides, companies should follow the mining law while digging,” said Chit Kaung, administrator of Wai Hka, where most of its 50,000 population work in mines.
Environmental advocacy group Global Witness put the value of jade production in Myanmar at around $31 billion in 2014. Experts say the majority of stones are smuggled to China.
Fighting between government forces and an ethnic armed group in Kachin displaced more than 5,000 people since early last month, the United Nations says.