Many people have fled the war in Sagaing Region for a better life in Hpakant in Kachin State. But once in the jade-rich area, they’re at the mercy of thugs hired by the big mining companies who beat them up if they catch them scavenging for jade in the pits where they risk their lives every day searching for the precious stone.
“In Hpakant, we can work on a jade block and earn some money to send to our families. Many of us are internally displaced persons from Sagaing Region,” says *Maung Myo Chit, who comes from Kaw Lin Township in Sagaing Region.
Before last year’s coup, they were afraid of being arrested by the police and soldiers, but now they have to hide from goons who will slap them on the face or worse, beat them with sticks and fire slingshots at them.
Despite the dangerous working conditions, Maung Myo Chit hopes that one day he’ll find a jade stone that will turn his luck around. “We have to seek out opportunities, but at the same time we must be careful, because it’s a dangerous life we lead.”
According to local volunteer groups, the jade companies have been working around the clock since the beginning of the year, and if their workers are killed in landslides, they don’t take any responsibility for their deaths.
The military regime has repeatedly stated that no one is allowed to mine jade in Hpakant, but hundreds of mines have been operating in Lon Khin, Hpakant, Mawsizer, Nam Maw and Hpa Pyin Mamung since spring 2021.
The companies have reportedly paid the Burma Army (BA) and also the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) for permission to operate in the area. Representatives for other ethnic armed groups are also involved in the extraction of jade in Hpakant.
One local, who doesn’t want to give his name, said that since the regime cut off connectivity, no one from outside the region knows the many difficulties they face.
Another local, who asked that his name not be mentioned, said the internet shutdown has nothing to do with the armed conflict. “They want people to go about their business and not get involved in revolutionary affairs.”
BA Light Infantry Division 33 and the People’s Militia often clash with KIA Brigade 9 and the People’s Defence Forces in the township.
Some investors have built housing for the irregular workers and take 50 per cent of what they can earn in the pits, while other landlords want only 10 per cent of their profit
One worker told KNG on condition of anonymity that he doesn’t have to pay his landlord any rent at all. The men are supposedly from the same village and the landlord only wants to see what he finds first. However, the worker says that he’s not obliged to sell it to him and that he may sell it to others.
A vendor said inflation and poor transport routes to the area mean that food prices, rents and taxes in Hpakant are constantly in flux. “We can make some money here, but we have to spend most of it.”
According to the last census, 300,000 people lived in Hpakant Township.
*The source’s name have been changed for security concerns.