YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Police in northern Myanmar opened fire on hundreds of villagers who tried to enter a jade mine area, killing at least five and injuring 20 others, state media said. Five policemen were also reportedly hurt.
The official Myanmar News Agency said 50 jade seekers initially tried to enter the privately owned mine area in Kachin state Wednesday night, but were blocked by police guarding the mine. It said they left, but nearly 600 people returned an hour later and clashed with the police, burning trucks and damaging a backhoe.
The government news agency said police opened fire after being attacked with knives. It said nine of the injured people were in serious condition.
It did not explain why the villagers wanted to enter the mine area, but the online news service Irrawaddy said clashes are not uncommon between mining companies and impoverished villagers who survive by scavenging small bits of jade from mining waste.
It said one of the original group of jade seekers complained of being injured by a stone thrown by police, and other villagers then gathered and confronted the police. Some attacked the police and destroyed a piece of mining equipment, it said.
The state’s Hpakant township has much of the world’s highest-quality jade ore. Big, well-connected companies mine most of the jade, destroying much of the area’s environment, while desperately poor villagers risk their lives by digging for scraps. Piles of mining waste have collapsed on villagers several times, killing dozens.