YANGON — A jade scavenger in northern Myanmar has been shot dead by mine security, officials said Tuesday, the latest death in a multi-billion-dollar industry notorious for its dire working conditions, deadly landslides and corruption.
Many on the hunt for jade in Myanmar’s Kachin State scavenge deep into the night on land owned by mining companies for fragments of the stone, coveted as a sign of luck and wealth in neighbouring China.
Companies typically allow illegal scavengers to enter their concessions in informal arrangements after their massive machinery are done combing through the mountains of earth for large jadeite stones.
Myanmar is the world’s biggest source of jadeite and finding a piece missed by company miners can reward scavengers with a small fortune.
But conditions at the mines are treacherous. Dozens of workers die each year in landslides while clashes with security guards working for mine companies are common.
On Monday, a worker from Myanmar’s restive and poor Rakhine State was shot dead near a mine in Hpakant, the main jade town of Kachin State.
“The young man was killed by a gunshot from security officers working for a company,” U Shwe Thein, head of the National League for Democracy party in Hpakant’s Seik Hmu locality, told AFP.
Thein said the miners were not thieves and were just searching for quick cash from leftovers passed over by heavy diggers.
“There might be some misunderstanding between the miners and security but to kill them is not the solution,” said Shwe Thein.
He added that about 400 scavengers working in the area burned a car and a building on the site out of anger.
Daw Nilar Myint, an official from the Hpakant local administration, said the victim was 25 years old and that the clash may have started because the miners came to the site before they were allowed to scavenge.
The NGO Global Witness found in 2014 that Myanmar’s jade mines in Kachin produced around US$31 billion in that year alone, almost half the country’s GDP during the same period.
Most of the resources are controlled by companies with links to the military and ethnic armed groups in a state riven by long-standing conflict.