The tragedy taking place in Hpakant shows yet again the terrible human toll of Myanmar’s unchecked, military-dominated capitalism. So far, almost 200 people have lost their lives in a landslide caused by an industry controlled by military, crony and militia-owned companies, with widespread unregulated mining and black market trade that is fueling conflict and grave human rights violations.
According to state media, one of the companies responsible for the Hpakant tragedy is Jade Land, owned by Yup Zaw Hkwang and his family. A 2009 US Embassy Cable, released by Wikileaks, described Yup Zaw Hkwang as a close partner of the Myanmar military, as the richest man in Kachin State and named Jade Land as the biggest jade company in Myanmar. The cable recommended US sanctions “due to his strong relationship with the regime and the significant economic benefits derived from this relationship”. Jade Land was awarded mining concessions in Hpakant by the Myanmar military because of their role in brokering the 1994 ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army. Yup Zaw Hkawng continues to play a political role within Myanmar’s peace process through Peace-talk Creation Group, which provides further protection for his business interests. While families of the victims mourn their tragic losses, who were already impoverished before the disaster, Yup Zaw Hkwang and his family live in luxury. One of his daughter’s social media accounts, who is also a Jade Land Director, is even named “overflowing with jade”.
The Myanmar military maintains murky links to the jade industry through subsidiaries and front companies and has a vested interest to maintain the status quo, which is lucrative for the top generals. Military conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings Limited is heavily involved in jade through their subsidiary Myanmar Imperial Jade. Myanmar Imperial Jade is at the apex of additional subsidiaries with profits flowing back to military regiments, battalions and generals. The military also outsources mining licences to their cronies - such as KBZ Group, who mine jade for the Myanmar military and also reap the jade profits through commercial bank, which provides lucrative services to the jade industry.
Myanmar’s democratic reform process, created and controlled by the Myanmar military, has protected the military and their cronies from accountability and ensured that their profits continue unchecked, in the mining sector and elsewhere. The victims of the Hpakant tragedy deserve justice. The Myanmar government must hold those responsible to account, remove the military from the economy and put an end to dangerous, illegal mining.
According to media reports, other companies connected to the disaster are Jade Leaf, who were charged by police in March 2020 for illegal jade mining, Sein Shwe War, Thit Thone Lone, Yadanar Kye, Yadanar San Shwin, Ayar Yadanar and Kyauk Myat Shwe Kyi.
View Burmese-language state media reports naming Jade Land here.
View the US embassy cable on Jade Land here.
For more, see Justice For Myanmar's press release on the military's conflict of interest within the committee established to investigated the Hpakant disaster.