Myanmar jade mining drives rights abuses, disasters, war-rights group – by Alisa Tang (Reuters India – October 23, 2015)

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Myanmar’s secretive jade industry – run by military elites, drug lords and crony companies – is fuelling armed conflict, land grabs, deadly landslides and floods in northern Kachin state, the rights group Global Witness said on Friday.

Jade is driving conflict between the government and ethnic Kachin rebels, funding both sides in a war that has killed thousands of people and displaced 100,000 since 2011, the London-based organisation said in a 128-page report.

Kachin’s Hpakant township has been stripped of forests, as two-storey-tall machines and dynamite take just four days to plough through jade-bearing mountains that once took 30 days to mine, leaving a “moonscape” of waste-filled craters prone to collapse, it said.

The loss of land, pollution and takeover of the jade industry by government-licensed companies have destroyed traditional sources of income – farming and small-scale mining – and stoked resentment in a volatile region, it said.

“Locals are literally having the ground cut from under their feet. There is a parallel social collapse involving endemic drug addiction amongst miners, prostitution and gambling,” Mike Davis, Asia director for Global Witness, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email from Yangon.

Those who “stand in the way of the guns and machines” face land grabs, intimidation and violence, the report said, quoting one woman as saying her home was destroyed after she refused to move out in exchange for 1 million kyat ($780) compensation.

“The environmental and social collapse of Hpakant, and the plunder of its riches, fuels intense resentment amongst Kachin people,” Davis said.

“As some say, ‘The tree is in our garden but we are not allowed to eat the fruit.’ Kachins can do little more than stand by and watch their long-time enemies consume their natural inheritance. This exacerbates locals’ distrust and the determination of some to resist central government control.”

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