Police Investigate Explosion at Hpakant Jade Mining Company

By Nyein Nyein & Nang Seng Nom 4 November 2016

RANGOON — The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) rejected a jade mining company’s allegation that its soldiers destroyed US$5 million worth of property in Kachin State’s Hpakant on Wednesday evening, when a large explosion sparked rumors of armed group involvement.

Residents who live near Yadanar Yaung Chi Mining Co. in Yumar village, one mile from Hpakant town, told The Irrawaddy that they heard seven blasts before company property caught fire.

The company lost over $5 million due to the explosion, according to the Kachin State police on Thursday. It was the second such incident in jade land this year. In May, two jade mining companies in Hmaw Si Sar village in Lone Khin township were attacked by arsons.

Citing company staff reports, a police officer from Hpakant said “around 20 gunmen entered the compound at around 7 p.m., and ordered the employees to lie down, before setting fire on the tire warehouse, destroying the furniture and assaulting a member of staff.”

Tun Lwin, a Hpakant police major, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the company had alleged that the gunmen were members of the KIA.

Several armed groups operate in jade-rich region in addition to the KIA, including local Kachin and Shanni militias working in the mines, as well as the Burma Army. But Tun Lwin alleged that the KIA was “the only holder of arms” in Hpakant.

When contacted by The Irrawaddy on Friday, Lt-Col Tang Seng of KIA Battalion No. 6 said he believes a handful of people are trying to undermine the image of KIA by placing blame on them for the fire.

“We were not involved in the company’s explosion. It could be other armed groups…or [a conflict] between the companies or by the hand-pickers,” he said, referring to those who search through rubble for jade stones missed by the companies, often doing so at the risk of falling victim to landslides or armed attacks.

Lt-Col Tang Seng also added that the KIA would not engage in “such a startling public incident,” given the sensitive nature of the current political landscape in Burma.

A case has been filed with the Hpakant police station to investigate the destruction through the use of explosives, according to police major Tun Lwin.

Yadanar Yaung Chi Mining Co. is the partner company of Yandar Taung Tan mining company, which uncovered a 210-ton giant jade stone last month.

According to local sources, ethnic Wa businesspeople are among the company’s major shareholders, as the United Wa State Army is reportedly financially backing many of the nearly 1,000 mining companies working in the region, as was reported by London-based NGO Global Witness in a 2015 report entitled “Lords of Jade.”

Such assaults on jade companies are “not unprecedented” in the jade rich region, where the Tatmadaw has been deploying additional troops and upgrading its brigades, said the locals in Hpakant.

“We live in fear as there is no peace in our area. The more troops are deployed, the more concerns there are for the locals,” said Dah Shi La Seng, a Kachin State lawmaker from the National League for Democracy.

“We hope to have peace in Hpakant,” he added.