Headline May 22, 2019/ '' 'MYANMAR - GRIEF-ANGER- MANIFOLD' ''



IN MYANMAR : ''LIVES ARE SO CHEAP'' : What then about grief, anger as landslide rocks Myanmar's jade hills...................

WHEN BRANG AUNG left home in early April, his wife pleaded for him to stay with their newborn son's naming ceremony, just a few weeks later.

Instead, the youthful 43-year-old returned to his job a three hour journey away as a backhoe operator for a jade mining company, keen to earn to support a growing family, four relatives told Reuters.

Brang Aung had worked in Hpakant, northern Myanmar's notoriously dangerous mining district, for eight years, but still told his family - Christian from the Kachin ethnic minority - to pray for his safety.

During a night shift on April 22, disaster struck. A muddy lake above his employer's mining site breached its banks, unleashing a wave of water and dirt that buried 55 men instantly. None survived.

The tragedy was a reminder of the danger workers such as Brang Aung face daily unearthing the valuable gemstone that is prized in neighbouring China.

''The companies are earning a lot, but they don't value the lives of the people at all,'' said Brang Aung's mother, Hkawn Bu.

''It's not just one or two people have died, it's hundreds. The government should protect its citizens.''

The family never held a naming ceremony, but call the boy Htoi San Aung, the name Brang Aung had chosen for his son.

Jobs in the hills of Hpakant can pay well above the standards of rural Myanmar - Brang Aung earned  $200 a month. But the area has reputation for lawlessness, with high rates of drug addiction and HIV, and the jade mine themselves are frequently hit by deadly accidents.

The government of Nobel Laureate Aung San Sun Kyi pledged to clean up the industry when it took power in 2016, but activists say little has changed.

Reliable statistics on safety in Hpakant were not available, but media have reported scores killed in the past three years, many of them freelance 'jade pickers'' who scour tailings - the residue from mining - for stones that have been missed by larger operators

A group of community organizations wrote to President Win Myint in September last year, warning of the danger of an ''unlawful situation'' in Hpakant.

The letter raised concerns about environmental damage from mining, the overuse of dynamite and violent crime and drug abuses going unchecked in the area.

''Many people have also been killed by landfill collapses because of dumping earth without discipline,'' the letter said.

'Just Doing their Work' : Five days after the April 22 collapse, the scene was unrecognizable from from the earlier photographs.

Kyaw Kyaw-Lwin, one of about a dozen rescue workers still on the site, told visiting Reuters  reporters that there was no hope of pulling bodies from the deep pit of thick mud that had entombed the workers and their machines.

''It's impossible to find a body in this mud. If a body floats up, we try our best to retrieve it,'' he said.

''The thing I want the most is for them to find is  the body of my son,'' said Hkawn Bu, shedding a tear. ''Whatever the body looks like, whether it's black and blue, I want to see it.''

Following the collapse, authorities suspended 17 mining blocks belonging to 11 companies around Hpakant, citing safety concerns.

Brung Aung's family accepted compensation of about $30,000 from his employer. it was more than most have received in past payouts for industrial accidents in Hpakant, according to activists.

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