In a new report, the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) highlighted what they say is the failure of the military to take responsibility for hundreds of deaths in a landslide at the Gwi Hka jade mine in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township in July.
“Guarding Profits Not Lives” was released on September 3 and explores the military’s role in the deaths of an estimated 300 jade pickers in the disaster.
“From a human security perspective, jade extraction is so dangerous. Many people have died in jade mines,” a KWAT staff member told KNG. “The army doesn’t care about this, but their companies have made a lot of profit [off of the jade]. Our objective is to highlight their failure to take care of the security of these people. We collected information from local people in the Gwi Hka area. We prioritized the voices of local people. Our report is based on their feelings, their voices and what they have faced.”
According to KWAT, the Burma Army’s Light Infantry Division (LID) 33 guards and is supposed to ensure safety in the Gwi Hka mine.
KWAT alleges that even though the soldiers assigned to secure the mine were aware of the dangers of being present on the steep slope of mining waste—particularly during the rainy season—they allowed jade pickers to enter the area, even taking “taxes” from them when they found discarded jade.
“The report exposes how the troops had no incentive to block off the mine—not just because of the military’s links to companies involved, but because they were earning large profits from the ‘taxing’ of the jade scavengers,” KWAT’s statement on the release of the report said. “It is little known that the hundreds of thousands of scavengers in Hpakant must hand over to the military a share in cash from all jade found—providing a substantial source of revenue for the Burma Army, shared up to the highest levels.”
KNG was among the news outlets that reported public comments made by the Union minister for natural resources Ohn Win suggesting that the “greed” of the jade pickers contributed to their death.
The Burmese authorities have detained jade businessmen from Gwi Hka in connection to the deaths of the jade pickers, and have taken action against Kachin State’s security and border affairs minister, Col Nay Lin Htun, appointing a new individual to the position. No action is known to have been taken against LID 33.
KWAT has demanded that jade extraction in Hpakant be halted “until there is genuine peace and devolution of power under a new federal constitution—giving local people control of their lands and natural resources.”