Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Military, police, security teams and many volunteers are still at work trying to find survivors in the rubble of a jade mine in Kachin State, northern Myanmar. On November 21 the mine collapsed in a terrible accident. At least 113 bodies have been recovered so far from the Hpakant quarry. However, about a hundred are still missing and the death toll looks set to increase.
According to some sources, a large pile of debris, scraps of extraction work in the quarry, succumbed suddenly, overwhelming the shelters of some "improvised miners" who live in the area.
In fact, most of the victims are poor people living next to the mine who search for marketable fragments among processed. At the moment there is no reliable information on the reasons that caused the accident, the most serious in the history of the country.
Official security sources report that the collapse occurred at 3 am on Nov. 21, when a huge pile of debris broke loose and headed downstream. The landslide swamped at least 70 temporary dwellings and there occupants.
The northern Kachin State is one of the most important centers for jade extraction. In fact the Burmese military junta - in power until 2010 - built its (huge) riches on trade in the precious stone. Recently, activists and experts have reported that mining companies dedicated to the extraction of jade, with the complicity of leading Burmese army officials, perpetrated "the biggest theft in terms of natural resources in modern history."
According to advocacy group Global Witness the value of jade produced is at least three times higher than the 12.3 billion dollars of jade sold to China, the final recipient of almost all of the jade exports from Myanmar.
The precious gems market has also complicated the already difficult process of democratization of the country, with the lack of transparency and the involvement of key figures linked to the military dictatorship.
In particular Hpakant (950 km north-east of Yangon), in Kachin State, has been scene of a bloody war between the army and rebels. This is the world’s most important center for jade mining. In fact Burmese authorities have imposed severe restrictions on access to the area, refusing entry to foreigners.
The condition of the exploitation of workers employed in the mines and the terrible conditions in which they operate is one of the many unresolved issues that will face the new government, led by Democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the vote on 8 November. In addition to the condition of the workers, the intensive exploitation of the quarries has also caused enormous problems of land pollution and serious environmental damage.