August 5, 2008 / 10:49 AM / 11 years ago

At least 20 killed in Myanmar jade mine landslide

YANGON, Aug 5 (Reuters) - At least 20 people were killed when the slag heap from a jade mine in military-ruled Myanmar collapsed late last month after torrential rain, industry sources said on Tuesday.

"A number of people panning for gold in the earth were buried alive," a person involved in the jade industry in Yangon told Reuters, saying they had heard about the July 30 incident through traders in the northern state of Kachin, where it happened.

Official media in the former Burma have made no mention of the tragedy, which the source said occurred at the Hmawzizar Jade Mine in Phakant, a major jade mining area about 1,500 km (930 miles) north of Yangon.

"At least 20 bodies had been found as of August 3," said the source, who did not want to be named.

Although one of Asia’s poorest countries, Myanmar is a major gemstone producer and such incidents are not uncommon. At least 16 people were killed in a landslide caused by torrential rains in Mogok, the centre of Myanmar’s ruby mining, in June.

Locals frequently blame the mining companies, especially those owned by cronies of the ruling military junta, saying they operate mines in Dickensian conditions with scant regard for the safety or welfare of the workers.

Myanmar, an international pariah after 46 years of unbroken military rule, produced more than 20 million kilograms of jade last year, contributing to nearly $650 million of foreign exchange from sales of precious and semi-precious stones. (Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Ed Cropley)

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