At least 11 people died in a landslide in a remote jade mining region of northern Myanmar with many more feared missing, authorities said on Tuesday.
Locals and officials are searching for bodies after a wall collapsed during a downpour on Monday night in the town of Hpakant in Kachin state, the war-torn area that feeds a huge demand for the precious stones from neighbouring China.
“We have found 11 dead bodies so far. When the landslide happened, about 50 people were searching for jade,” Nilar Myint, a local official from Hpakant, told AFP.
“Heavy rain has been falling the whole night,” she added.
A local police officer told AFP the rescue was continuing but was hampered by poor transport and communications infrastructure.
The area has suffered a string of deadly landslides over the past year, with a major incident in Hpakant last November killing over 100. Dozens of other smaller accidents have left scores more dead or injured.
The victims are usually itinerant workers searching for pieces of jade left behind by large-scale industrial mining firms.
A local resident and former NGO worker told AFP that hundreds of people have been searching the deep pits left behind by mining firms during Myanmar’s rainy season, when major companies cease operations.
“We think about 200 people were working in that area when the landslide occurred last night... there could be many more casualties,” the resident said on condition of anonymity, adding that heavy rain and poor roads had made the rescue difficult.
Myanmar is the source of virtually all of the world’s finest jadeite, a near-translucent green stone that is enormously prized in neighbouring China, where it is known as the “stone of heaven”.
But while mining firms -- many linked to the junta-era military elite -- are thought to be raking in huge sums, local people complain they are shut off from the bounty.
In an October report corruption watchdog Global Witness estimated that Myanmar jade produced in 2014 alone was worth $31 billion, with most profits going to powerful military and former junta figures instead of the state coffers.
The group said the secretive jade industry might be the “biggest natural resource heist in modern history”.