Man scavenging for jade shot dead by security guard at Myanmar mine, triggering uproar and arson
- The victim was a mine worker hoping to supplement his income by searching for jade fragments to sell – a common practice that is typically allowed
- About 400 fellow scavengers working in the area reacted angrily to the incident by burning a car and a building on site
A jade scavenger in northern Myanmar has been shot dead by mine security – the latest death in a multibillion-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 concessions after the massive machines have finished combing through the mountains of earth for large jadeite stones, in what has become an informal arrangement.
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.
He and a group of fellow workers were searching for any fragments that had been passed over by the heavy diggers, according to Shwe Thein, head of the National League for Democracy party in Hpakant’s Seik Hmu locality.
“The young man was killed by a gunshot from security officers working for a company,” Thein said.
“There might be some misunderstanding between the miners and security but to kill them is not the solution.”
About 400 scavengers working in the area reacted to the incident by burning a car and a building on site, Thein added.
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 that Myanmar’s jade mines in Kachin produced around US$31 billion in 2014 alone, almost half the country’s GDP that year.
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.