Hopes fade as Myan­mar mine land­slide toll tops 100

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

YAN­GON: Res­cuers were search­ing for vic­tims of a huge mine land­slide in north­ern Myan­mar yes­ter­day as the toll passed 100 in a dis­as­ter high­light­ing the per­ils of the coun­try’s se­cre­tive bil­lion-dol­lar jade trade. Au­thor­i­ties in the re­mote town of Hpakant, the epi­cen­tre of the world’s pro­duc­tion of highly valu­able jade, have pulled scores of bod­ies from the earth since a huge moun­tain of de­bris col­lapsed onto dozens of flimsy shacks early on Satur­day morn­ing.

While re­cov­ery oper­a­tions con­tinue, des­per­ate res­cuers have lit­tle hope of find­ing sur­vivors with only dead bod­ies pulled from the rub­ble yes­ter­day. Those killed are thought to be mainly lin­er­ant work­ers, who scratch a liv­ing pick­ing through the piles of waste left by large-scale in­dus­trial min­ing firms in the hope of stum­bling across a pre­vi­ously missed hunk of jade that will de­liver them from poverty.

“First we kept the bod­ies in Hpakant hos­pi­tal but there were so many it could not hold them all so we ar­ranged to burn them at the ceme­tery,” said Dashi Naw Lawn, of Kachin Net­work De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion, a com­mu­nity group help­ing with the search. Hpakant Town­ship Ad­min­is­tra­tor Tint Swe Myint said the to­tal toll had risen to 113, with eight more bod­ies re­trieved from the rub­ble on Mon­day. “We will go on search­ing tomorrow,” he told AFP.

Of­fi­cials in the area have said they do not know pre­cisely how many peo­ple are miss­ing be­cause they did not have fig­ures for the num­ber of work­ers liv­ing in the ad hoc slum area. But Mon­day’s state-backed Global New Light of Myan­mar news­pa­per said “many more peo­ple are still miss­ing” af­ter the accident. The land­slide is thought to be the dead­li­est in re­cent mem­ory in the hard to reach and im­pov­er­ished area of north­ern Kachin state bor­der­ing China, where lo­cals say scores of work­ers have died this year alone in fre­quent land­slides.

Stone of heaven

Myan­mar is the source of vir­tu­ally all of the world’s finest jadeite, a near-translu­cent green stone that is enor­mously prized in neigh­bour­ing China, where it is known as the “stone of heaven”. The Hpakant land­scape has been turned into a moon­scape of en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion as firms use ever-larger dig­gers to claw the pre­cious stone from the ground.But while min­ing firms-many linked to the junta-era mil­i­tary elite-are thought to be rak­ing in huge sums, lo­cal peo­ple com­plain they are shut out from the bounty. In an Oc­to­ber re­port, ad­vo­cacy group Global Wit­ness es­ti­mated that the value of Myan­mar jade pro­duced in 2014 alone was $31 bil­lion and said the trade might be “big­gest nat­u­ral re­source heist in mod­ern history”. Much of the best jade is thought to be smug­gled di­rectly to China. With lit­tle help from au­thor­i­ties, Hpakant com­mu­nity groups have pooled lim­ited re­sources to help work­ers in­jured in the ac­ci­dents which have be­come com­mon­place as the dig­gers creep closer to vil­lages.

Heroin and metham­phetamine are also eas­ily and cheaply avail­able on Hpakant’s dusty streets, a side ef­fect of Myan­mar’s mas­sive nar­cotics trade. Lo­cals have launched des­per­ate cam­paigns to try to per­suade Myan­mar’s quasi-civil­ian gov­ern­ment, which re­placed out­right mil­i­tary rule in 2015, to force min­ing firms to cur­tail their rapidly ex­pand­ing oper­a­tions. But their pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears. Aung San Suu Kyi’s Na­tional League for Democ­racy swept land­mark Novem­ber 8 elec­tions and will form a new gov­ern­ment early next year. But it has not yet out­lined any firm plans for the jade trade be­yond pledges for a more eq­ui­table al­lo­ca­tion of prof­its from the coun­try’s nat­u­ral re­sources.

NLD spokesman Win Htein told AFP that some party mem­bers were help­ing out with search and res­cue oper­a­tions at the site. “It is our duty to help the coun­try when we can,” he said. — AFP

DHAKA: Bangladeshi po­lice­men guard, as activists who have been cam­paign­ing for cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment for war crim­i­nals march in a rally, be­hind, to protest against a na­tion­wide strike called by the main Is­lamist party, Ja­maat-e-Is­lami in Dhaka yes­ter­day. — AP

Jade mine work­ers and res­cue mem­bers car­ry­ing vic­tims of a land­slide walk on dump soil in Hpakant, Kachin State, Myan­mar. —AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.