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Mawchi mudslide: death toll rises, rains continue

President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing met locals in Mawchi to assist with relief efforts. (PHOTO: Min Aung Hlaing Facebook)

The Karenni State government has ordered the immediate suspension of all mining operations in Mawchi, following a deadly mudslide that claimed the lives of 28 locals.

A mining official in Lohkalo village, Mawchi, told DVB the regional government issued the order amid concerns constant raining could trigger more landslides, but that the suspension was indefinite until further notice.

“All excavation sites are now closed as there are possibilities of further landslides – as of now there is no timeframe specified for the closure,” the official said.

Thein Thein, an officer at the government’s No. 2 Mining Enterprise office in Loilaw said: “The suspension order is issued by the regional government but at this moment, we have not yet received any directive regarding our operations. I understand that the [regional officials] will have to conduct field inspections at the site to order its closure.

“Even then, the ban won’t be permanent, it will only be temporary, until the conditions are safe to resume operations,” he said.

The death toll from the disaster stands at 28, with more than 50 homes buried in landslides triggered by heavy rain in Mawchi on 11 October. Around 1,400 locals displaced by the incident are now taking shelter at local schools, churches and Buddhist monasteries.

Rescue workers, still struggling in the search effort, said more assistance is required to care for the displaced villagers. Government officials, including Commander-in-Chief Sen-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and civil society organisations have rushed to the region to provide relief and assistance.

Mawchi is home to tin and tungsten mining operations, and in the 1930s, under British administration, was the most important source of tungsten in the world.

In 2012, a Karenni women’s group called for a halt to the expansion of tin mines in Mawchi, calling the enterprise an “environmental disaster”. However, nothing at this stage points towards mining as a cause of the mudslides.

There have been two recorded major landslides previously at the mines – in 1976 and 1984 – since the operations began in the 19th century.