RANGOON — Jade mining operations in northern Burma’s Kachin State have ground to a halt after more fighting between the military and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) during the week, locals have told The Irrawaddy.
While the Ministry of Mines said on Jan. 23 that operations will not be halted despite ongoing conflict in Hpakant Township, local reports suggest that almost all jade mines in the area have ceased production.
“I heard that the jade mines near Lone Khin village have stopped all their operations,” said Hpakant resident Hla San. “Jade mines have been burnt in recent days, that is why most of them do not dare to keep operating.”
More than 2,000 Hpakant residents were displaced in January after clashes between the KIA and the Burma Army, including bomb attacks at a police station and outside the well-known Jade City Hotel, leading to onerous travel restrictions in the township. Fighting has continued into the first week of February near Hpakant town. Locals have said they continue to fear for their safety.
Conflicts have also arisen between mineworkers and locals prospecting by hand. During the Burmese government’s suspension of jade mining, local prospectors entered mines to collect small-scale jade yields, and after operations resumed last September, prospectors were ejected from mine sites.
Earlier this year, facilities at a mine belonging to Kyaing International, believed to be owned by the son of former Snr-Gen Than Shwe, was burned down by local prospectors in Hpakant. On Wednesday, state-run newspaper the New Light of Myanmar reported that about 30 prospectors set fire to the Kyauk Sein Taung mining company’s office in a separate incident on Jan. 31, injuring two staff members.
Other mines have been forced to cease production because of conflict between the KIA and Burma Army.
The Aung Hein Min mine in Mhawwangyi village was ordered to cease production by the KIA, according to local villager U Cho, and a staff member from the Thiraw Mani jade mine said continued fighting had made continued operations untenable.
Min Thu, the assistant director of the Ministry of Mines, said that no company had announced plans to halt all their operations in Hpakant, despite a looming deadline for mining license renewal falling on Feb. 11.
“It might be that some companies have temporarily stopped because of the recent situation. I don’t know about the security situation in the area,” he said.
The KIA is one of the only major ethnic armed groups in Burma that has not reached a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government, even as negotiators last month announced a push to sign a nationwide ceasefire accord by Union Day on Feb. 12.
Kachin State is among the world’s last remaining sources of jade. Resource extraction has long been a both a cause and a revenue stream for conflict between ethnic armed groups and the government in the area. Jade mining in the area was suspended for two years in 2012 following the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the KIA.