Parliament Pledges Safety Review after Hpakant Landslide Disaster

By Nyein Nyein 8 December 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The Upper House speaker has told lawmakers that a decision on safety measures for mines operating in Hpakant will be presented to the Union Parliament in the coming weeks.

Speaking on Monday, Khin Aung Myint said that members of the government would address lawmakers on the subject of improving safety in the jade-rich Kachin township before the end of the year, according to the Tuesday edition of the state-run newspaper Myanmar Ahlin.

On Nov. 21, a deadly incident in Seik Mu village claimed the lives of at least 114 prospectors, who were in a mine basin handpicking for jade residue when a hill of mine tailings collapsed and buried them alive. Upper House Kachin lawmaker Khet Htein Nan last week presented a motion asking the government to urgently introduce new safety regulations to prevent future catastrophes.

On Dec. 1, another three people died in Wai Khar village, some 10 miles away from Seik Mu, according to local villager Shwe Thein.

He told The Irrawaddy that the mining activities of some 12 companies had been suspended after the deadly incident in November.

November’s disaster has shed light on the need to address the structural problems of Burma’s jade industry, which recently came under renewed scrutiny with the October release of a Global Witness report into the ownership of Hpakant’s lucrative jade mines.

The London-based watchdog charged that many of the mines were operated by senior figures of the former military junta, military-owned conglomerates and junta-linked tycoons, earning between them an estimated US$31 billion in revenue last year.

In his monthly radio address to the nation on Saturday, Dec. 5, President Thein Sein also highlighted the need for a review of safety practices in the high-risk work environment in the wake of the landslide.

“It is necessary to strictly enforce safety rules as well as provide safety equipment to allow quick responses to accidents at the work sites,” he said.

Lawmakers have urged the government to outline a specific safety plan. Aung Kyi Nyunt, an Upper House lawmaker for the National League for Democracy representing Magwe, told The Irrawaddy that a comprehensive response was needed.

“As there was much harm caused by the Hpakant landslide, there should be a specific safety plan for the poor living and working in the area as handpickers, who are suffering especially from large-scale mining conducted with heavy machinery,” he said. “We have to wait and see whether the Union Government will implement such a plan.”