RANGOON — At least two people were killed and around 30 were missing on Wednesday after a mountain of rubble collapsed at a jade mine in northern Burma, a parliamentarian from the area said.
A worker from a mining company, speaking on condition of anonymity due the sensitivity of the issue, said the death toll could reach 50 once all bodies have been retrieved from the remains of a massive pile of rock dumped by mining companies.
The local lawmaker, Kyaw Soe Lay, said rescue workers were clearing piles of rubble in the open pit mine in Hpakant, a town in Kachin State about 110 kilometers (68 miles) from the state capital Myitkyina.
“The mine dump measuring about 700 feet (213 meters) in height and about 1,500 feet in length collapsed today burying eleven shops,” said the mining company worker.
Accidents are frequent in Hpakant and victims are often “handpickers” —independent miners who find jade fragments by combing through unstable mountains of rubble.
Hpakant is the largest source of Burmese jade, which netted US$3.4 billion in sales at the annual gems emporium.
Estimated revenues from the illegal trade dwarf that figure.
The Harvard Ash Center published a report in July 2013 that put unofficial sales at about $8 billion in 2011 with almost all of that jade smuggled over the border into China through territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic insurgent group.
The KIA ceded control of Hpakant to the government in 1994 when it signed a ceasefire agreement. But the ceasefire fell apart in 2011 and the government halted official mining for security reasons.
The Ministry of Mines said last July it would allow companies to resume operations.