At least 23 people are dead and 80 are missing days after a landslide at a jade mine in Myanmar’s Kachin state, but junta officials and the mine’s operators have yet to confirm the casualties and are seeking to keep the incident under wraps, aid workers and residents said Friday.
The landslide occurred on Feb. 28 in Hpakant township’s Mat Lin Gyaung village at a quarry that is jointly run by private firms Myanmar National Co. and Shan Yoma Co., according to sources. Jade mining has been illegal in Hpakant since 2019, but many companies defy the ban, and operations have increased in the area since the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup.
On March 3, the military announced that no one had been killed in the incident, but two days later aid workers and family members of miners told RFA’s Myanmar Service that authorities had recovered the bodies of 23 people and buried them at the nearby Mat Lin Gyaung Cemetery.
An official with a Hpakant-based aid group, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Friday that the companies and security forces had so far blocked search and rescue teams from entering the area because they want to cover up the severity of the landslide and because the operation is illegal.
“Among those [who remain] missing are scavengers, drivers, supervisors, company staff – altogether there are about 80 people,” he said.
“[Authorities] have blocked the road to stop aid workers from entering the area. No cars are allowed and were turned back. Landslides occur frequently here. Stopping rescue teams and aid workers is hard to understand. In other words, it’s a kind of a news blackout.”
The aid worker said that the 23 bodies recovered from the quarry should have been sent to Hpakant Hospital for autopsies but were instead instantly buried by authorities. He said that after 11 days, those still missing are assumed dead.
Meanwhile, Myanmar National Co. and Shan Yoma Co. have yet to release the exact number of dead and missing.
The aunt of a young scavenger who went missing at the quarry said the companies had not officially notified any families regarding the deaths or the accident. She said that relatives only learned of the landslide from others in the community and were left to investigate on their own.
“I won’t be able to see my boy if I don’t go now. We’ll have to try to find his body on our own, but we won’t give up,” she said.
“[The authorities] don’t want to search anymore and so they will say no [if asked for help]. In fact, only about a third of the parents may have heard their kids were killed or injured in the accident because the companies didn’t tell them … If we waited for them to notify us, we would have never known the truth.”
While the woman did not provide details about her nephew, citing security concerns, she told RFA that all 23 of those confirmed dead in the landslide were under the age of 30.
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