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Landslide at an illegal Jade mine in Myanmar kills 13

A workers can earn $300 per month or more in Myanmar. This attracts migrants who are willing to take great risks.

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Rescue teams search for the bodies of miners killed in a landslide in a jade mining area in Hpakhant, in Myanmar's Kachin state on November 24, 2015. Search teams said on November 24 they had abandoned hope of finding survivors from a landslide in north Myanmar's jade mining heartland which killed more than 100 people. It is one of the deadliest incidents surrounding the billion-dollar jade trade that enriches a shadowy elite while destroying the local environment and social structure. AFP PHOTO / AFP / STR

YANGON— Dozens of Jade miner were killed while scavenging in a mining pit. This mishap occurred after the start of monsoon rain and due to lack of safety measure’s and dangerous conditions inside the mine.

Myanmar’s Kachi state in the north has Hpakant Township where vast wasteland of deep pits and huge rubble heaps produced by mining companies using heavy machinery and dynamite.

Due to heavy rainfall instability in area has increased and a pit wall collapsed on scores of workers, said Khin Maung Myint, a National League for Democracy (NLD) Upper House parliamentarian from Hpakant.

“They found 12 bodies so far and sent 50 to the hospital,” he said, adding he believed up to 100 men could still be under the rubble. “There is heavy raining so they had to stop searching,” he added.

extraction of bodies from the landslide area
extraction of bodies from the landslide area. Image source: voa

The men had illegally entered a company pit where work was suspended. Deadly accidents are common in the Hpakant mines, where poor migrants from across Myanmar scavenge mining waste and pits for jade stones.

On May 8, 13 people reportedly died in a landslide. Several accidents with a lower death toll occurred in December and January. In one of the worst accident in recent memory, 114 men sleeping in a mining camp died when they were crushed by a collapsing waste mound last November.

In 2015, an estimated 300,000 itinerant miners were scavenging for jade in Hpakant, a recent state media article said. It noted there had been a sharp rise in workers in the past few years, along with an increase in large-scale mining and waste dumping.

Naw Lown, secretary of the Kachin National Development Foundation, said the hazardous conditions were created by powerful, licensed companies that dumped waste with no regard for safety regulations or environmental rules.

“They don’t take responsibility, they care only for their benefits. They don’t explore according to the rules and regulations, and they don’t dump waste in a systematic way,” he said.

Authorities have thus far struggled to enforce safety laws, or to control the masses of itinerant miners, a situation that the new NLD government urgently wants to change. It has announced plans to improve mine safety during its first 100 days in office and will issue no new mining license until new rules and environmental safeguards are in place.

“We… will make arrangements for systematic mining there,” Win Htein, director-general of the Mining Department, told state media on May 19. Measures such as moving at-risk camps of miners, creating safe zones and enforcing tighter rules on dumping are being planned.

Khin Maung Myint said there were around 150 firms extracting jade, adding that NLD officials “want to stop all mining during the rainy season because it’s dangerous, but that’s very difficult because there are interests (of companies) owned by the military.”

Living conditions in the remote, mountainous area are tough and most workers share simple shacks set up in dirty camps. Addiction to drugs such as heroin and opium, which are cheap and produced in northern Myanmar, is common.

Yet income levels are good by Myanmar standards as workers can earn $300 per month or more. This attracts migrants who are willing to take great risks.

Jade rock found at the mine
Jade rock found at the mine. Image source: voa

Khin Maung Myint said many are driven by the hope of finding a large jade stone. “They dream they can find a golden pot at the end of the rainbow,” he said, adding that most migrants come from impoverished, crisis-affected Rakhine State

Reverend Sai Naw of the Baptist Church in Hpakant said many laborers simply work to feed their drug addiction. “The main danger for miners is the landslide, but we estimate that 60 percent of the migrant miners use drugs, though there is no detailed or correct data,” he said, adding that the recent opening of a NGO health clinic providing free clean needles would help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

While countless poor men toil in dangerous conditions and scores die, the owners of mining companies are reaping huge profits.

Jade industry has an estimated worth as $31 billion annually according to an investigation by the London-based natural resource watchdog Global Witness and is Myanmar’s most valuable sector. It found most mining firms had military connections and hid their ownership and license contracts.

China is the market of Jade where it is highly priced. The Jade is exported to nearby border as unregistered raw blocks from where it goes to Hong Kong for processing.(VOA)

 

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Rakhine Villagers Flee to Temples when Military Unit Conducted Door-to-Door Searches for Rebel Ethnic Soldiers

The search operation along with some shooting incidents by government soldiers caused more than 500 local residents to take sanctuary on the grounds of Aung Mingalar Monastery, while more than 2,000 sought safety inside the Shwe Phaung Tin Monastery compound

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myanmar, rakhine villagers
Myanmar villagers who fled their communities when government soldiers conducted door-to-door searches for members of an ethnic armed group take shelter in Aung Mingalar Monastery in Mrauk-U township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, March 20, 2019. RFA

Thousands of fearful villagers have fled communities in Myanmar’s war-ravaged Rakhine state, where a Myanmar military unit has been conducting door-to-door searches for rebel ethnic soldiers, residents of the affected villages said Wednesday.

The searches for Arakan Army (AA) troops took place all day in Myo Chaung and Pan Myaung villages on the border between Mrauk-U and Minbya townships in the northern part of the state where hostilities between the two militaries have escalate since late last year, they said.

“Yesterday was really bad,” said Kyaw Myint, a resident of Pan Myaung village. “They [government soldiers] started from Myo Chaung village with their search [for AA fighters] and reached the edge of Pan Myaung village. The government soldiers changed to civilian clothing and entered the village firing their guns. All the villagers ran for their lives.”

The search operation along with some shooting incidents by government soldiers caused more than 500 local residents to take sanctuary on the grounds of Aung Mingalar Monastery, while more than 2,000 sought safety inside the Shwe Phaung Tin Monastery compound, they said.

“An IDP [internally displaced persons] camp has been opened in Shwe Phaung Tin monastery compound, Kyaw Myint said. “It’s already harboring a large number of people.”

myanmar, rakhine village
“Yesterday was really bad,” said Kyaw Myint, a resident of Pan Myaung village. Wikimedia

When Myanmar soldiers entered villagers’ homes, they beat some, detained others, and stripped more then 130 of them of their shirts and made them stay outside in the burning sun, said Abbot Pyinnyar Wontha of Shwe Phaung Tin monastery. He said he does not know how long the monastery can host the IDPs.

“Then they asked where the AA soldiers were located,” he said. “Now the villagers are scared of the soldiers and have fled their homes.”

During the search, Myanmar soldiers took away four villagers — Khin Maung, 30, and Kyaw Aye Maung, 25 from Myo Chaung village and Soe Win Naing, 22, and Maung Myint Hlaing, age estimated to be about 30, from Ywa Thit ward — for supposedly having connections to the AA, residents and family members said.

“They took two villagers from Myo Chaung village and two from Ywa Thit ward,” Kyaw Myint said. “We haven’t heard anything from them since.”

Kyaw Kyaw Hla from Aung Mingalar Monastery said the government troops fired indiscriminately at the villagers.

“The soldiers entered the villages and did whatever they wanted,” he said. They fired their guns at random and apprehended the villagers for questioning. They caused so much panic.”

myanmar, rakhine village
The search operation along with some shooting incidents by government soldiers caused more than 500 local residents to take sanctuary on the grounds of Aung Mingalar Monastery. Wikimedia

The Myanmar Army views Rakhine villagers as AA sympathizers, Kyaw Kyaw Hla said.

“So, they brutally questioned the villagers if they found them in the village,” he said. “They got angrier if they were not in the village. They said they would torch the houses if nobody was found in the village.”

The AA, a Buddhist Rakhine military fighting for autonomy in the state, was branded a terrorist organization by the Myanmar government after it carried out deadly attacks on police outposts in the state early this year, leaving 13 dead. A similar assault on another police outpost in early March killed nine officers and wounded two others.

RFA’s Myanmar Service was unable to reach Colonel Win Zaw Oo, commander of the Western Regional Military Command to confirm the arrests.

RFA was also unable to contact AA spokesman Khine Thukha to confirm if AA members were hiding in villages on the border between Minbya and Mrauk-U townships.

Meanwhile, the influx of residents of Pan Myaung and Myo Chaung villages who have left their homes has stretched the two monasteries housing them to their limits.

Abbot Pyinnyar Wontha said he does not know how long the Shwe Phaung Tin monastery can host the IDPs.

“We requested that they go back home in one or two days, but their numbers have swelled to over 2,000 since yesterday,” he said.

myanmar, rakhine village
Villagers look at an unexploded rocket from fighting between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army in Mrauk-U township, western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, March 16, 2019. Credit: AFP. RFA

Mrauk-U villagers still missing

One month has passed since the families of six people in Mrauk-U township were detained by the Myanmar military during clashes with the AA, and haven’t been heard from since.

Maung Win Sein, 35; Aye Thein, 33; Maung Shwe Soe, 29, from Thar-Zi village; Sein Thar Kyaw, 46, from Taung Oo village; and Hla Htun Chae, 61, from Yan-Aung-Myae village — disappeared on Feb. 19 during an intense battle in the township’s Yan Chaung region.

Myo Min Zaw, 19, from Kya-Nat-Kan village in Kyauktaw township, north of Mrauk-U, also went missing the same day. Tun Nu, the head of the township’s Taung Min Kular village also went missing during the skirmishes.

Their family members, who insist that the men have no ties to the AA, said they filed missing person reports at a local police stations but have heard nothing since.

RFA was unable to reach the police stations in Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw townships.

Oo Myint Htay, wife of Maung Win Sein, said a stranger with a mixed Myanmar-Rakhine accent answered her husband’s cell phone when she called his number.

“He told me not to call him if it’s nothing urgent,” she said. “With all the fighting going on, I was very worried because it was not my husband answering the phone and a stranger was answering it. I called the second time but no one answered. Since then, the phone has been turned off so it can’t receive calls anymore.”

myanmar, rakhine village
Their family members, who insist that the men have no ties to the AA, said they filed missing person reports at a local police stations but have heard nothing since. RFA

Dar Sein, wife of Hla Htun Chae from Yan Aung Pyin village, said her husband was arrested by the Myanmar military’s 22nd Division.

When she went to the army compound to inquire about her husband after he didn’t come home from cattle herding, she found him being tied up, she said.

“They tied my husband up,” she said. “When I got there, my husband Hla Htun Chae asked me to redo his sarong.”

After a while, he was summoned by the captain, and soldiers asked Dar Sein to go home.

“I said I’d go home with my husband because he has hypertension and is not in good health,” she said.

“The soldiers told me not to worry and asked me to leave,” she said. “I left and haven’t heard from my husband since then.”

‘They had done it’

Hla Htun Chae is the only one of the missing men confirmed to be detained by the military, while the fate of the remaining villagers remains unknown.

Some believe the missing men may be among three charred bodies discovered in a valley east of Yan Aung Pyin village on Feb. 21.

myanmar, rakhine village
“The soldiers told me not to worry and asked me to leave,” she said. “I left and haven’t heard from my husband since then.” Wikimedia

“I went there to investigate with the village head and elders of Kyar Nat Kan, but we saw only the piles of ashes,” said Sein Hla Maung, head of Yan Aung Pyin village. “It was where military troops had been stationed, so we concluded that they had done it.”

RFA could not independently confirm that the charred bodies found near Yan Aung Pyin village were the work of the government troops.

A spokesman for Myanmar military’s information committee told RFA on Feb. 25 that soldiers apprehended the local residents only as part of investigations and that they have not forcibly detailed any civilians. The AA also denied detaining them.

Tun Thar Sein, a lawmaker who represents Mrauk-U township in the Rakhine state parliament, said state officials should inform the families about their missing relatives.

“The state government is responsible for protecting its local citizens,” he said. “The government needs to give explanation to the family members of those who have been missing for a month.”

AA joins talks

The AA is one of a handful of ethnic armies fighting the government military in some of Myanmar’s ethnic minority areas.

The Myanmar government’s peace commission has invited eight organizations that have not signed a nationwide cease-fire — including the AA and its political wing, the United League of Arakan — to attend collective peace discussions for the first time on Thursday.

Some delegates from the various groups and a Chinese representative arrived in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday.

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Colonel Kyaw Han leads AA delegation.

After holding talks with government peace negotiators, representatives from each ethnic armed group will meet individually with representatives from the Myanmar military on Friday.

The talks are an effort to jump-start the country’s stalled peace process to end decades of armed conflict in Myanmar. (RFA)