Myanmar rescuers call off jade mine landslide recovery operation

Rescuers in northern Myanmar called off the search operation after a landslide at an illegal jade mine with dozens still missing and presumed dead (AFP/Handout)

Rescuers in northern Myanmar said the confirmed death toll from a landslide at an illegal jade mine had risen to six on Friday as they called off the search operation with dozens still missing and presumed dead.

Scores die each year working in the country's lucrative but poorly regulated jade trade, which sees low-paid migrant workers scrape out gems highly coveted in neighbouring China.

Authorities had initially estimated at least 70 people were feared missing after the torrent of rocks and earth swept into the lake early Wednesday, but later said that they were still trying to confirm that figure.

"We called off the search at 4:30 pm today. With two recovered today, six dead bodies in total were recovered," Ko Jack of Myanmar Rescue Organisation told AFP.

He said his team would no longer conduct diving operations as the bodies of those still missing were likely buried underneath soil and rubble.

The miners at Hpakant come from across Myanmar to scratch a living picking through the piles of waste left by industrial mining firms in hopes of finding an overlooked hunk of jade.

Determining how many people were working when the disaster struck would be difficult, rescuers said, with families hesitant to admit their relatives were there and survivors unwilling to come forward.

Rescuers said increased pressure from the weight of dumped soil and rock had pushed the ground downhill into the nearby lake.

Jade and other abundant natural resources in northern Myanmar -- including timber, gold and amber -- have helped finance both sides of a decades-long civil war between ethnic Kachin insurgents and the military.

Civilians are frequently trapped in the middle of the fight for control of the mines and their lucrative revenues, with a rampant drug and arms trade further curdling the conflict.

Last year, heavy rainfall triggered a massive landslide in Hpakant that entombed nearly 300 miners.

bur-rma/ssy

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