MANDALAY — A police officer in the Lone Khin jade mining region of Kachin State said 50 miners were detained on Tuesday after a dispute over unpaid wages with their employer, Yadana Shwe Eaik, turned violent the night before.
According to witnesses, more than 100 mine workers gathered on Monday afternoon at the company’s offices to demand their wages and when tempers flared they destroyed some of Yadana’s heavy machinery and set fire to a building.
“The workers said they did not received their daily wages and salaries yet, and the arguments turned into a protest in the evening. The police were there negotiating between the workers and the company, and the company promised it would pay the daily wages and salaries on Tuesday,” said Ko Thein Han, a witness.
“We don’t know what sparked the chaos. Some angry men threw stones and destroyed the heavy machinery. Later, the recreation building for the workers was set on fire and the flames spread to the garage and nearby buildings,” he added.
Witnesses said dozens of workers rushed into the garage once it caught fire to steal the jade stored inside but were eventually dispersed by police who fired warning rounds into the air.
“We got away from there when the situation started to get bad. We heard the gunfire from afar and later learned that police opened fire to drive away the workers who tried to steal the jade from the burning garage,” said Ko Aung Moe, a mine worker.
“The fire ended at about 11 p.m. and police are searching for the suspects who stole jade from the burning garage,” he added.
A local police officer, who asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak with the media, said 50 mine workers were detained on Tuesday and would be sued on several counts, including vandalism, arson, theft, unlawful gathering and insulting police.
He said three civilians received minor injuries during the violence and that police were investigating reports that one man had died.
“We still don’t know about the dead person. Since the investigation is ongoing with the detained workers and the company staff, I cannot provide any more information,” the officer said.
He said police estimated the value of the stolen jade and property damage at about 114 million kyats ($84,700).
Company representatives could not be reached for comment.
Locals said security remained tight on Tuesday as police continued to search for more suspected thieves. They said wage disputes between the area’s jade mine workers and their employers were common but added that Monday night’s violence was rare.