A jade scavenger in Myanmar has been shot dead by mine security staff, according to the authorities.
On Monday, a scavenger from troubled Rakhine State was shot dead near a mine in Hpakant, from where foreigners are excluded, meaning the accounts cannot be independently verified.
Most of the profit from the multibillion-dollar industry ends up across the border in China and the sector is associated with gruesome working conditions, landslides and corruption.
Jade scavengers in Kachin State’s Hpakant township hunt for scraps overnight and are often killed in the landslides that blight the mines. The stone is regarded as a sign of luck and wealth in China.
The impoverished but resource-rich country is the world’s biggest source of jadeite and finding a piece missed by company miners can provide a financial breakthrough for scavengers.
There are around 300,000 scavengers in the Hpakant township, according to the military-controlled authorities.
Hpakant residents said shootings around the mines were common between jade scavengers, who sneak into the mining concessions, and the police and soldiers who provide security for the powerful companies.
Shwe Thein, village head of the National League for Democracy (NLD) branch, said the scavengers were not thieves.
“The jade searchers are natives of the region who have no other way to make a living, as they are not allowed to mine legally, so conflicts happen that are difficult to control,” Shwe Thein told the media.
He said the authorities should investigate the cause of the conflicts and find solutions to end the loss of life.
“There might be some misunderstanding between the miners and security but to kill them is not the solution,” Shwe Thein added.
The failure of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD – which won control of the Kachin State and national parliaments after the November 2015 elections – to reform the jade sector is a damning indictment of the party’s record.
On November 14, a man died after allegedly being shot by security guards at a mine in Wai Khar village.
The NGO Global Witness estimated in 2014 that the Kachin jade mines generated around US$31 billion in profits that year, almost half the country’s GDP during the same period.
Mine companies often have links to generals and the ethnic armed groups in the war-torn state.
The jade trade channels little wealth into Burmese society. Picture credit: Wikimedia