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A jade miner was shot and wounded on Saturday by a Burmese government soldier in Hpakant, Kachin State, following a quarrel between representatives of a mining firm and freelance miners who scavenge daily for leftover fragments of jade at the company’s worksite.
The victim of the shooting, Seng Aom Naw, told DVB that the Sein Aung Kyaw mining company previously had no issue with freelancers scavenging at its worksite, but on 12 November things went sour when some of the freelance workers got into a heated argument with company staffers. He said he did not know what the dispute was about, but that they were all later told to leave the site by soldiers who had been assigned as security at the mines.
“The company had always let us search for jade at their worksite, but after the quarrel that morning some soldiers came and fired warning shots and told us to leave,” said Seng Aom Naw. “We all started running away, but my foot got stuck in the mud and I guess a soldier took a pot shot at me.”
He said he was hit by a bullet that went straight through his thigh. He was taken to Hpakant hospital, where he was told by doctors that the injury was not life-threatening as the bullet had not hit any artery or bone.
Members of the Kachin National Development Foundation (KNDF) visited Seng Aom Naw at the hospital, where the civil society group condemned the Burmese army for shooting a civilian. KNDF coordinator Kai Rein said they will also demand the company be held accountable for the incident.
“The duty of a soldier is to protect his country and people. The young man who was shot is a civilian and we cannot fathom why the military would stand alongside these firms and treat people like enemies,” said Kai Rein.
DVB reported yesterday that two freelance miners were killed when a mound of excavated soil collapsed on them at a jade mine in Sagaing Division’s Hkamti Township on Saturday.
Also on 12 November, Burma’s state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported that mining bosses in Khamti had complained that undocumented workers, or scavengers, were seizing the jade stones that should be discovered by the legal companies at the site. At least one of the jade mining chiefs threatened to take legal action against the freelancing miners.
Hkamti lies some 80 kilometres northeast of Hpakant, which has the largest concentration of jade mines with at least 50 mining companies operating there. Outside the official mining operations, thousands of itinerant workers subsist by digging through mountain-sized heaps of discarded earth in search of jade scraps.
A recent report by international watchdog Global Witness estimated that the rampantly corrupt and unregulated business is worth some US$31 billion.
Soon after winning last year’s elections, the now-ruling NLD promised to do more to regulate the lawless jade mine industry after a landslide in November 2015 claimed nearly 200 lives.