TANAI TOWNSHIP, Kachin State — With the recent fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Tatmadaw, thousands of locals and workers fled seven mining areas around Tanai Township in Kachin State.
Nearly all of the small huts in the amber mining village of Noi Je Bum Patserm Maw were abandoned on June 15—the deadline given by the Tatmadaw for people to leave the area or else be recognized as “insurgents,” according to leaflets dropped from the Myanmar Army’s helicopters.
Some people, however, ignored the warnings and remained, in hope of working the empty mines, according to KIA mining officers. The mineshafts are lined close to each other—some run up to 150 feet—and the bodies of two men were recovered from a shaft and buried on June 15, said the mining officers.
The pair had hidden in the jungle, waiting for the mines to become free, said the officers, but they ventured down a shaft that did not have oxygen and suffocated.
Nan Nan Aung, a mining officer, explained the usual precautions taken before mining.
“When it is rainy, there may not be oxygen,” he said. “First you have to check whether there is oxygen at the bottom of the mine by putting a candle light there. If it goes out, the miner needs to blow hot air inside the hold, and then the miner can go down when there is some air to breath. But unfortunately, these two men were not aware of this procedure.”
He added that deaths in mining were not unusual in the area, with electric shocks posing the biggest threat to miners.
The KIA ordered its mining officers to leave the area by June 16, but some miners did not have the money for a return trip, said the officers, and retreated to the jungle.
The village’s restaurants, market, and karaoke bar shut down in June. Sellers had locked their shops, but some had been broken into. A mining officer said two of his motorbikes were stolen on the night of June 15 and predicted a wave of thefts to pass over the village soon.
The KIA generates most of its income in Tanai from mining amber and gold, the profits of which it uses to fight the Myanmar army. The ethnic armed group had owned mining areas in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township, but lost a large tract of territory there to the Tatmadaw.
The KIA mining officers said they believe the Myanmar Army may want to control the amber and gold mines in Tanai in the same way they have taken many mines in Hpakant.