10 dead in mine rockfall tragedy near Loot Shan Village, Karen State

July 29, 2015

At least 10 people are dead following a rockfall at a mining site near Northern Loot Shan village, Kyainnseikyi Township, Karen State. To date, three bodies have been recovered, while it is suspected that at least seven more bodies remain buried under fallen rocks.

rock-killed10The rockfall took place on 23 July, 2015, at a mining site near the village of Loot Shan, located on the western side of Kyainnseikyi Township. Reportedly, the tragedy took place at lunchtime, as workers and their families sheltered from rain under a canopy of rocks.

U Tin Htun, leader of a neighbouring mining project, described the accident, “It was raining heavily that day. It happened after an hour of lunch break. They used the rock as a rain shelter instead of building a tent outside. It was like a cave. It was a huge area and they did not think that the rocks would fall down [….] When the rocks began to fall down they couldn’t run away”.

According to Ko Saw Htun, an eyewitness from a neighbouring mine, workers on the project had previously been warned against sheltering under these rocks, but had ignored advice. He detailed, “Since last year [the project workers] sheltered there. Last year, the rocks did not fall, so they kept sheltering there. People who came to buy the rock warned them to move [away from the rock] and stay outside. But they were used to staying there and did not leave”.

Victims of the rockfall include Saw Ae Gay, the 35-year-old leader of the mining project, alongside his wife and one-year-old baby. The other seven confirmed victims include two young boys, aged just 8 and 12 years old.

The mining project in question is, like many projects in the surrounding area, owned by the Green Star Company in collaboration with the Karen National Union (KNU) and managed by local residents. Mining projects in the area are used to extract rock for use in building local roads. In particular, rock extracted near Loot Shan is being used in construction of a new road linking the Thai-Burma border village of Three Pagodas Pass to Mon State’s Thanbyuzayat Town.

With the help of workers from neighbouring mining projects, one dead body was recovered on the day of the rockfall and two the following day. However, the search for bodies was called off soon afterwards, when workers decided that the remaining rock could not be shifted.

U Tin Htun confirmed that the search had been called off and that, despite brief closures, mining in the area would soon continue. He detailed,  “We retrieved three dead bodies and there are still seven under the rock. Some said that the seven people under the rock might have survived. But it’s impossible because the rock is very big. […] We have stopped mining for a while as some workers are scared, but we will continue soon”.

It is reported that local authorities have visited the site. However, it is unclear how they will process the case or whether compensation will be paid.

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