MANDALAY — Seven locals of Kachin State’s Hpakant, who were allegedly taken from their homes by members of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) last week, were freed on Wednesday, one of the detained told The Irrawaddy.
Five men and two women who blocked trucks from dumping jade mine waste near their homes in Hpakant were allegedly apprehended by members of the Kachin armed group on Dec. 14. The detained group included members of a local social organization and hailed from Seng La, Mazut Pyan, Aung Larang and Seng Khar villages in the Hpakant region.
“We don’t know where the place [of detention] was, but they said it was the KIA’s battalion number six,” said Naw Lun, who was among the apprehended group. “They urged us not to [cause unrest] as the country is in a time of transition and to cooperate with them [the KIA] first.”
Hpakant locals had staged a roadblock from Dec. 10 to halt dozens of trucks planning to dump mine waste in nearby villages. The blockade was formed in response to what locals said was a spike in recent mining activity in the jade-rich region, which was hit by a deadly landslide in November that claimed the lives of over 100 prospectors.
Despite the release of all seven villagers, Naw Lun said locals still worried about their security.
“They didn’t threaten us but the way they took us to their place without explanation saddened us,” he said. “We feel that we have no one on our side to protect us, stand before us and speak for us.”
Unchecked mining in the region has prompted concerns among Hpakant residents over negative social and environmental impacts. According to figures from local jade merchants, more than 500 jade mining companies are now working in the area since mining resumed in late 2014.
“We are going to hold a meeting very soon and will invite opinions from locals and the authorities on how we can cooperate to take care of our region,” said Naw Lun.