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Dreams of Myanmar’s ‘unwashed’ jade miners buried by disaster

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Five Yay Ma Hsay — or ‘unwashed’ because the jade miners of northern Myanmar are identified — arrived early Thursday on the pit to scrape out a residing on a scraggy hillside, lured by the prospect of discovering a stone that might remodel their lives.

But solely three would return, the others victims of Myanmar’s worst-ever mine disaster after a landslide in heavy rains entombed no less than 174 folks, with scores extra feared lacking.

Sai Ko, 22, survived the spin-dryer of rock and heavy sludge by clinging to the corpse of a fellow miner, and battling to land.

His pal Zaw Lwin, 29, and his youthful brother San Lwin have been miraculously spat out from the churning torrent and delivered bare onto the shore, their garments ripped off by the deluge.

But two of the crew did not make it.

Than Niang was cremated on Saturday, whereas Thet Shin is lacking presumed useless, one of scores victims nonetheless unaccounted for from the accident on the Hwekha mine, in northern Kachin State.

“We have many dreams of helping our families,” a shaken Sai Ko advised AFP.

“But it’s not worth it. I will never go back.”

The hillside which buried his mates harbours jadeite, a stone which fits for a fortune over the Kachin border in China in a multi-billion greenback business dominated by companies linked to Myanmar’s navy.

But for the poor migrants from throughout Myanmar who journey a whole bunch of miles to prospect in Hpakant, large paydays are few and much between.

“Sometimes we hunt for ten days and only find a piece worth $7-$14. If we find a big stone they (the mining company) will take it,” stated Sai Ko.

Dabbing on the uncooked cuts on his face, his spouse Pan Ei Phyu stated they are going to abandon the mines and head residence to close Mandalay.

“I don’t want him to dig stones in this life. I just want our family to be together,” she stated.

Last journey

Yet there are hundreds extra able to take his place — unlawful employees who purchase their approach into the huge open-cast mines after the corporate diggers depart — to scour for scraps of the dear stone left behind.

Zaw Lwin, from central Myanmar, is amongst them — regardless of the fear of Thursday’s accident.

He says his five-strong staff arrived half an hour early to seize one of the best spot and keep away from jostling with a whole bunch of others.

But the early risers turned the primary victims because the hillside collapsed.

“We hadn’t even started digging when we were hit by the wall of water.

“I did not know what was taking place. My garments have been ripped off and rocks battered me… I suffocated on sand and dust.”

Just as exhaustion took hold — Zaw Lwin says he recited Buddhist mantras in his head accepting the end was near — he was suddenly washed onto land.

“I do not know the way I survived. I returned from demise.”

He says he will not go back to the pit, a deep mean-looking gouge where mud-caked workers relentlessly chip at the rocks.

Instead, he will work the waste piles dumped on top of the hills by mining companies — a scree of stones which can yield fragments of jade to the Yay Ma Hsay, which translates as ‘unwashed’ in Burmese but is used to group the informal miners.

Just days after the tragedy, Saw Lwin still has dreams of beating poverty.

“One day, if I get high quality stone I might be a Lawpan (a boss of the jade miners)… I need to stay in a home in a compound. I’m not going to surrender.”

The Hwekha mine is now a tomb for an untold number of people — mostly young migrants whose families may never hear of their fate.

Dozens of the unidentified were buried on Saturday in mass graves gouged into the red earth — an anonymous end far from home.

Social media has become a tool to try to identify the dead, with volunteers sharing photos on Facebook.

The mines are cloaked in secrecy.

Campaigners Global Witness say front companies obscure the real military owners in a shadowy industry they estimate to be worth $31 billion a year.

But there is little trickle down.

Than Niang’s wife had to check 60 battered bodies before finding her husband, a grim catalogue of those at the end of the jade chain.

“My complete world is destroyed,” she told AFP. “We have a child son. One day I’ll present him the final journey of his father.

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