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Five dead, 20 missing in Myanmar landslide

Myanmar flag. (Unsplash)
June 05, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Rescue workers in northern Myanmar recovered the bodies of five mine workers, including one Chinese national, on Wednesday and were searching for missing victims of a landslide at a rare earths mine, residents told Radio Free Asia.

The landslide in Kachin State’s Chipwi township trapped 25 people in a shaft early on Tuesday, they said. Resource-rich Kachin State, which has rare earth and jade mines, has been the site of  of a surge in clashes between the junta and an ethnic minority insurgent force, the Kachin Independence Army, since early this year. The landslide occurred during regular operations at the rare earth mine near Chinese Border Post No. 3, about eight km (five miles) from Pang War village, said one witness who declined to be identified for security reasons. 

“There was a landslide when I was working and around 20 people were in there, including a Chinese site manager,” he said. “These landslides are a continuous problem lately because it is rainy season.”

Rescue officials were searching for 20 people still missing, residents and mine workers said. 

Three Chinese nationals were believed to be among the missing, the witness said, adding that junta forces had tightened security at the site and forbidden photographs, threatening a fine of 5,000 Chinese yuan (US$ 703) for anyone taking a picture.

RFA telephoned Kachin State’s junta spokesperson, Moe Min Thein, for more information but calls went unanswered. The Chinese embassy did not respond to an emailed request for comment by the time of publication.

Rescue operations had been complicated because the land was still collapsing at the mine, said another resident, who asked to remain anonymous because of the junta’s media blackout.

A woman aged 19 who had been selling things at the mine was among the missing, said the resident.

“The rest are all men,” he said. “It’s difficult to search even now because the mountain is still collapsing.”

Two landslides occurred in a nearby rare earth mine near Pang War village on May 27 and 29, killing two workers, he said.

The environmental group Global Witness said in a report last month that rare earth mining production increased by 40% in Pang War between 2021 and 2023. The area is under the control of junta-led militias and pro-junta border guards, and more than 300 mining sites have been developed there since the military seized power in a coup in early 2021, Global Witness said.