YANGON, Oct 20, 2017 (BSS/AFP) – Five people were killed after Myanmar police opened fire on an armed mob that tried to enter a jade mine in the far north, state media reported Friday, the latest deadly incident in a murky multi-billion-dollar industry.
The violence erupted after police blocked around 50 jade scavengers from accessing an industrial plot owned by “111 Company” in Kachin State’s Hpakant — the hub of a trade beset by worker unrest, deadly landslides, corruption and drug abuse.
An hour later, “nearly 600 people returned and attacked the police, burning dump trucks and destroying a backhoe,” reported the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.
“As police were attacked with knives, police opened fire to drive back the attackers,” the state mouthpiece said.
“Five people were killed and 20 people and five police officers were injured,” it added.
Most of the world’s best quality jadeite is mined in Hpakant — a once lush region that has been carved into a barren moonscape by industrial firms linked to Myanmar’s junta-era elite.
The vast majority heads to China where there is a seemingly insatiable demand for the green gemstone which is considered lucky.
In recent years poor workers have also poured into Hpakant to scour the rubble for any hunks of stone passed over by the mining giants.
But the work is laden with danger in an area frequently hit by deadly landslides during the monsoon season.
The worst landslide in recent years left more than 100 dead in November 2015.
Drug abuse is also rampant among miners with cheap heroin and crystal meth easily accessible because of proximity to the notorious Golden Triangle region.
The shadowy industry has also fuelled unrest between Myanmar’s powerful military and ethnic rebels in insurgency-torn Kachin, both of whom are believed to profit from the trade.
While those at the top are raking in huge sums primarily from sales in neighbouring China, there has been little trickle down benefit to local communities ravaged by the environmental degradation.
In a 2015 report, advocacy group Global Witness estimated that the value of Myanmar jade produced in 2014 alone was $31 billion and said the trade might be the “biggest natural resource heist in modern history”.