At least 27 people are feared dead following a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar, police said on Wednesday, as heavy rains hampered the search for survivors.
The poorly-regulated and notoriously corrupt multibillion-dollar industry in remote Kachin state is frequently hit by fatal disasters, and the victims often come from poor ethnic communities.
The latest disaster hit remote Set Mu sub-township early Tuesday following heavy rains in the area, burying at least 27 people, mostly from the impoverished ethnic Rawang group, local police officer Aung Zin Kyaw said.
“We haven’t found any dead bodies yet. We will search again today with the Red Cross and fire brigade,” he said.
With only about 70,000 members, the mainly-Christian Rawang are one of Myanmar’s smallest ethnic groups and live predominantly in the mountainous north, with many employed in the informal mining sector.
With few regulations and little oversight in the hugely profitable sector – mostly fuelled by soaring Chinese demand – conditions are often dangerous, especially during the wet months.
“Before the rainy season, the people looking for jade were destroying the land. Now it is raining and the ground is not stable and very muddy,” local resident Shwe Thein said on Wednesday.
Dozens of people have been killed by landslides this year in the Hpakant region of Kachin state, where a major incident in November 2015 left more than 100 dead.
Watchdog Global Witness estimated that the jade industry was worth some $31 billion in 2014, a huge proportion of which did not reach state coffers.
Jade and other natural resources, including timber, gold and amber, help finance both sides in a decades-long conflict between ethnic Kachin rebels and the military as they battle to control the mines and the income they bring.
Since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in 2011, more than 100,000 people have been displaced due to the fighting, many multiple times.
Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on coming to power in 2016 that ending the country’s myriad conflicts was her top priority but an ongoing peace process is yet to yield any significant results.