Kachin MP Calls for Urgent Govt Intervention on Hpakant Jade Mines

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 20 May 2015

RANGOON — A Union Parliament lawmaker from Kachin State has called for an urgent overhaul of mining in Hpakant, home to the world’s most lucrative sources of jade, over local concerns about the environmental impact of the industry.

Hkyet Hting Nan, an Upper House MP and member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, said that mining companies had continued to behave irresponsibly since jade production resumed in March, and suggested that a government takeover of the mines might be necessary to stop environmental damage.

“I submitted a proposal for government control of Hpakant jade mines in 2012,” he told The Irrawaddy. “Hpakant is suffering at the moment. There are soil heaps everywhere, and residents are falling victim to landslides and flooding.”

Bauk Ja, the Hpakant Township chairman of Kachin State National Democratic Force, backed Hkyet Hting Nan’s claims, saying that slipshod practices by various mine operators had posed various hazards to locals.

“These companies left soil waste around Hpakant where residents were living,” she said. “Jade mines opened up big holes in the ground and the roads were worn down from the number of trucks coming to and from the mines. Residents are facing constant accidents and transport problems.”

Kachin State is among the world’s last remaining sources of jade. About 90 percent of the world’s jadeite is now mined around the Hpakant area and predominantly sold to clients from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Jade mining was suspended in 2012 after the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army the previous year. After the government approved the resumption of mining operations in late 2014, mining companies renewed their licenses and restarted the mines, halting temporarily earlier this year when renewed fighting broke out before a full resumption in March.

The industry has returned with a vengeance, according to locals, who said that more powerful equipment and machinery is being used in the mines compared to 2012. Companies have reportedly scheduling round-the-clock shifts to make up for the two-year production halt.

Accidents related to the mining industry remain commonplace. In early January, at least eight people illegally fossicking in one of Hpakant’s disused mining areas were killed by a rockslide, according to locals. At least 100 people are estimated to have died in similar occurrences over the past five years.

Hkyet Hting Nan said he believed the government was holding off from a discussion on regulating the industry to allow miners to get back on their feet.

“We know that it’s still a short time since the companies resumed their work,” he said. “If we restricted them before, they might have had financial problems as they invested a lot in their operations. I think that’s why parliament is waiting for a good time to discuss.”

Bauk Ja said she supported Hkyet Hting Nan’s calls for urgent intervention in the local mining industry.

“The Hpakant area is getting worse year by year due to these extreme jade mines,” she said. “Companies are saying they will focus on environmental concerns, but it’s not happening. I want the government to take action as soon as possible.”

Min Thu, assistant director of the Myanmar Gems Enterprise, a branch of the Ministry of Mines, said that issues concerning environmental protection had already been written into production contracts negotiated between miners and the government.

“Now we’re encouraging to companies to emphasize environmental concerns, and requesting them to do so in a fast manner,” he said.