The landslide that struck Hpakant yesterday highlights the devastating toll of the military coup on jade mining communities in northern Myanmar and the urgent need to prevent the junta using the country’s natural resources as a financial lifeline.
Over 70 people are reportedly missing after the hillside of an old mine site collapsed near Tharyagone in Hpakant, where independent miners were scavenging for jade. It follows another deadly landslide this week, which claimed several lives.
The Myanmar military’s coup in February this year has signalled the death knell for urgently needed reforms of the country’s jade sector, which for decades served to enrich corrupt generals, military-connected and crony companies, armed groups and militias. Since the coup, Hpakant has become a haven for illegal mining under the auspices of military battalions, police and armed groups who work together to extract fees from miners.
“Today’s disaster is a haunting reminder that lives too often come second to profit in the jade mines of Hpakant, where a toxic combination of lawlessness, conflict and corruption has set the stage for yet another preventable tragedy,” said Hanna Hindstrom, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness.
Hpakant has seen a surge in conflict and resistance fighting since the coup, with the junta’s State Administration Council (SAC) imposing an internet blackout on the township since August. Global Witness understands that growing insecurity and conflict has led to a sharp rise in illegal mining, fuelled by economic woes and uncertainty linked to the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic.
A licensing suspension imposed by the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government has been extended by the SAC, meaning that all jade mining remains illegal. But military battalions, militias and ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organisation, have continued to oversee mining activities.
In July, Global Witness released a report showing how illegal mining increased following the NLD’s licensing suspension, spurred by a rush to mine as much as possible before permits expired. The highest military brass – including the family of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing – are believed to profit from the sector.
This week Min Aung Hlaing made an appearance in Nay Pyi Taw at a five-day jade emporium, staged in an apparent bid to secure international currency for his regime.
“The military coup has torpedoed hopes for urgently-needed reforms for Myanmar’s jade sector,” added Hindstrom. “The military must not be allowed to use the deadly jade sector as a financial artery for its unlawful regime. People in Kachin and across the country will pay with their lives.”