Myanmar leader blames joblessness for deadly mining tragedy

Hpakant (Myanmar): Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed sadness on Friday over a landslide at a jade mining site in the country’s north that took at least 166 lives, blaming the tragedy on joblessness.

Suu Kyi, speaking on a scheduled Facebook Live broadcast with representatives of the construction industry, bemoaned what she described as the need for people to illegally sift for jade because they lacked other ways of making a living.

Those killed in the accident Thursday in Hpakant in Kachin state had settled next to a mining site to sift for bits of jade left over after heavy machinery excavated the ground and left behind huge mounds of discarded earth.

The mounds become unstable during the rainy season and slide down on the informal miners settled below, as occurred Thursday and has happened repeatedly in recent years.

The Myanmar Fire Services Department, which coordinates rescue and emergency services, announced Friday that there were 166 deaths from the accident, an increase of four over Thursday’s total. It earlier announced that 54 injured people had been hospitalized.

Bo Saung, a village administrator in Hpakant, told The Associated Press on Friday that more bodies remained to be retrieved, giving an estimate of 50.

The death toll already surpasses that of the previous worst such accident, in November 2015 when at least 113 people were killed.

Hpakant, a remore area 950 kilometers (600 miles) north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, is the center of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry.

The most detailed estimate of Myanmar’s jade industry, made by the environmental watchdog group Global Witness, said it generated about USD 31 billion in 2014.

Suu Kyi said most of those killed on Thursday were illegal miners. She said that shows it is difficult for the country’s citizens to get legal jobs, and that generating jobs should be a priority.

However, critics place the blame for such accidents on the legal mining operators and the government’s lax enforcement of safety measures. (AP)

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