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article imageRescuers battle to find dozens killed in Myanmar mudslide

By AFP     Apr 24, 2019 in World

Myanmar recovery teams battled treacherous conditions Wednesday to pull a fourth body from the sludge left by a mudslide that buried more than 50 jade miners -- the latest fatal accident in a notoriously dangerous but highly-lucrative industry.

Dozens die each year in landslides caused by jade mining, a poorly regulated industry rife with corruption.

The latest disaster struck a mine in Hpakant township in northern Kachin state late on Monday night.

Police described how a "mud lake" engulfed 54 miners -- all now feared dead -- while they were working a night shift.

Just three bodies were recovered on Tuesday.

Local police told AFP it was too dangerous to search further than the very edge of the vast oozing pool of sludge.

AFP watched as rescuers continued operations Wednesday under the searing sun, threatened by occasional small landslides falling ominously around the near-vertical sides of the mud-filled mine crater.

Delicately balancing on excavation equipment, they painstakingly managed to uncover one body before bringing it to firm ground to hose it clean.

More than 100 onlookers, including grieving relatives, stood watching the recovery efforts.

"You can only imagine how sad I am as a father," said Tin Shine, 57, as he waited in vain for his son's body.

Recovery operations stopped at nightfall Wednesday and were due to resume in the morning.

The site is mined by Myanmar Thura Gems and Shwe Nagar Koe Kaung companies.

Myanmar Thura Gems director Hla Soe Oo told AFP that the company was "helping the families identify the victims' bodies".

-- 'Better protection' needed --

The open jade mines in Hpakant township have turned the landscape into a vast moonscape-like terrain of barren hills and vast valleys of dirt scoured by companies for the precious gems.

Impoverished ethnic communities often scavenge the terrain for scraps left behind by big firms -- and are frequently the main victims of landslides.

But police told AFP that there were no informal workers on the site at the time of this mudslide.

A major collapse in November 2015 left more than 100 dead, while in July of last year, the bodies of 23 victims were recovered after a search hampered by heavy monsoon rains.

Ye Lin Myint, national co-ordinator for the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA), said workers in the country's mines should be better protected.

Acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to Myanmar Knut Ostby offered condolences to the families of victims, calling for urgent action to implement a new health and safety law.

The jade industry is largely driven by insatiable demand from neighbouring China, where the translucent green gemstone has long been prized.

Watchdog Global Witness estimated the industry was worth some $31 billion in 2014, although very little reaches state coffers.

Northern Myanmar's abundant natural resources -- including jade, timber, gold and amber -- help finance both sides of a decades-long civil war between ethnic Kachin insurgents and the military.

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