Myanmar mine chief says safety is fine, despite 113 deaths

No plan to help improve safety in mining area, says Myanmar's Mining Ministry, following accident that killed at least 113 people

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Almost one week after 113 jade miners were killed in a landslide in Myanmar's north, the country's Mining Ministry says it has no plans to help improve safety in the area.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says the disaster shows a complete disregard for the rule of law.

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi told Radio Free Asia's Myanmar language service on Thursday that as far as her party -- the National League for Democracy -- knew, it was the fifth such incident this year.

"This sort of accident is common just because there is no rule of law. It also reflects lack of due consideration for the safety of people's life and property," she said.

On Wednesday, authorities called off search efforts at the jade mine in Hpakantin in Kachin State.

Outside of the 113 confirmed killed Saturday -- when a 200-foot (61-meter) mountain of dump soil from the mine collapsed onto miners and houses below -- around 100 people are still estimated to be missing.

On Thursday, U Win Htein, director general of the Department of Mines under the Ministry of Mines, told the Myanmar Times that there was no need to upgrade safety rules as companies involved were not breaking the law.

He added that all mines comply with rules and regulations, and report monthly to the ministry on safety procedures and the impact of their activities.

Hpakant is a major source of high quality jade that is feeding relentless demand across the border in China.

The workers in the mining town are largely internal migrants, who sift through the rubble dumped by jade mining companies in search of overlooked fragments of the precious gem.

Officials say they are not yet sure why the large pile of debris created by dumping from nearby mines gave way Saturday.

But collapses in Hpakant -- where the industry faces little regulation -- are common: nine died in a smaller landslide there in March.

Global Witness, a non-profit group that campaigns against environmental crimes, has branded Myanmar’s shady jade industry a massive natural resource “heist.”

Last month the group estimated that corrupt military officials, cronies and drug lords controlled an industry worth at least $31 billion in 2014.

“Big firms licensed by the government are making a killing,” said Mike Davis, Asia director at Global Witness.

“They are grabbing jade worth tens or hundreds of millions a year, while leaving locals and migrant workers to run the gauntlet of deadly landslides caused by the companies’ reckless dumping practices.”