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Deadly landslide hits jade mines in northern Myanmar

As many as 50 people are feared dead after another landslide at gold and jade mines in Myanmar. The region had been hit by a similar event in November.

Dozens of people were feared missing or dead at the jade mines in Hpakant, Kachin state, 350 kilometers (220 Miles) north of the city of Mandalay - at the heart of Myanmar's billion dollar jade industry.

"We started searching and rescuing people this morning, and found five bodies. According to witnesses, about 50 people are still missing," said Tint Swe Myint, administrator of Hpakant town.

Other officials declined to give any numbers, emphasizing that the rescue mission was still underway. One man, also an administration official, told AFP that the numbers being reported were grossly exagerrated.

Repeat incident

The same area had been hit by

a massive landslide in November

, killing at least 115 people. Locals have reported that dozens more have died throughout the year in smaller accidents.

Myanmar Jade

The precious gemstone is in high demand in China

The victims in Myanmar's jade mining accidents have included many migrant workers picking through the heaps of waste left behind by industrial mining firms in a bid to stumble across a previously overlooked piece of jade.

Wealthy, elite families run the mines

at a great profit, and their critics accuse them of subjecting seasonal staff to unfit working conditions.

Myanmar is the source of virtually all of the world's finest jade. The region around Hpakant in particular produces up to 90 percent of the gemstone that hits the global market. The near-translucent green mineral is considered highly valuable in neighboring China, where it is called the "stone of heaven".

ss/gsw (AFP, dpa)

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