RANGOON & HPAKANT, Kachin State — A disregard for the rule of law in the jade mining industry in Burma has made accidents such as the landslide that killed more than 100 people at the weekend a common occurrence, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said on Thursday.
Authorities called off search efforts late on Wednesday in Hpakant, with as many as 100 people estimated still missing after a huge slag heap of mining debris gave way on Saturday and buried a makeshift settlement of migrant workers as they slept.
“As far as we understand, it was the fifth similar incident this year,” Suu Kyi told Radio Free Asia’s Burmese language service during an interview broadcast on Thursday.
“This sort of accident is common just because there is no rule of law. It also reflects lack of due consideration for the safety of people’s life and property.”
They were Suu Kyi’s first comments on the disaster in Hpakant, where rescue workers recovered 114 bodies before giving up the search.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which swept to victory in the Nov. 8 elections, has called for stricter safety measures and increased government oversight of the industry in the wake of the disaster.
Reforming the sector will be difficult. The lucrative jade industry is dominated by companies linked to leaders of the previous military government, ethnic armies and businessmen with close connections to the former junta.
Hpakant is at the heart of the jade mining region and produces some of the world’s highest quality jade, but workers, many migrants from other parts of the country, operate in perilous conditions for little pay.
Some work for mining companies, but many others pick over the massive debris dumps that are excavated from vast mines. They hope to find precious stones that may have been passed over. Landslides on the debris dumps are common, especially during the heavy monsoon rains, but rarely this deadly.
Htin Kyaw, a local police officer who was assisting with rescue efforts, said that only 80 of the 114 bodies had been identified. Authorities would now focus on finding safe shelter for survivors, he said.
“Now, we are trying to help relocate those who escaped the landslide to safer places,” he said.
Exactly how many people were sleeping in the huts and tents is unknown, but Tint Soe, who was elected as lawmaker for the NLD to the lower house for the area, said that he estimated the death toll to be between 170 to 200 people.