Pit collapse kills at least 13 in Myanmar jade-mining district

By Reuters/Aung Hla Tun   May 24, 2016 | 01:40 am PT
A collapse at an illegal mine killed at least 13 people in Myanmar's northern Kachin State, a resident involved in rescue efforts said on Tuesday, the latest in a series of deadly accidents to hit the jade-mining area.

The wall of the pit in Weikha Village in Hpakant, the centre of the opaque jade industry, collapsed on Monday after heavy rain, according to Naw Li, who was assisting in rescue efforts.

"We've found a total of 13 bodies while 14 injured people have come to the hospital for treatment," he said.

Naw Li said that only two people were officially listed as missing and it was unclear how many people could still be buried.

Khin Maung Myint, an lawmaker from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) from Hpakant, said workers were digging illegally in the abandoned mine when the wall gave way.

He said the pit was several hundred feet deep and unstable, making rescue efforts difficult for fear of another collapse.

Workers, many of them migrants from elsewhere in Myanmar, toil long hours in dangerous conditions for little pay searching for precious stones, which are highly valued in neighbouring China.

The mines and soil dump sites are hazardous and deaths among the workers who pick through the slag piles for jade are common.

Last November, a man-made mountain of earth excavated from mines gave way, smashing into a makeshift settlement at the foot of the slag heap and burying more than 100 mine workers as they slept.

Another major landslide occurred a month later and in May, police said, 13 were killed in a landslip.

The newly elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD said that it will work to restrict mining and improve safety conditions, but details on exact measures have been limited.

Speaking to parliament on May 11, Ohn Win, Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said the government would enact legislation but gave no time frame for implementation.

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