Yangon (AFP) -
Fading light forced Myanmar rescuers to call off a search for dozens of people feared missing after a landslide near a jade mine that killed at least one person, emergency workers told AFP on Wednesday.
Scores die each year working in the country's lucrative but poorly regulated jade trade, which sees low-paid migrant workers scrape out gems highly coveted in neighbouring China.
The disaster struck at a mine in northern Kachin state's Hpakant township, close to the Chinese border, where billions of dollars of the precious mineral are believed to be scraped from bare hillsides each year.
Rescuers initially said at least 70 were feared missing after the landslide struck around 4:00 am (2130 GMT Tuesday), but later added they were still trying to confirm that number.
'The search has stopped for the moment, we will continue tomorrow morning when the fog and mist are clear,' Ko Jack from the Myanmar Rescue Organization told AFP.
'It seems they are buried underneath soil. It's cold here that's why we have stopped, but will continue.
Ko Nyi, another rescuer, said they had sent 25 people to hospital and found one dead.
Hundreds of diggers had returned to Hpakant during the rainy season to prospect in the treacherous open-cast mines, according to a local activist, despite a junta ban on digging until March 2022.
'They mine at night and in the morning they tip out the earth and rock,' the activist said.
Ko Nyi of the rescue team also said increased pressure from the weight of dumped soil and rock had pushed the ground downhill into the nearby lake.
Around 200 rescuers were working to recover bodies, with some using boats to search for the dead in the lake, he added.
Pictures posted by Myanmar's fire services showed dozens of people lined up along the lakeshore and rescuers carrying an unidentified object up from the water.
The fire services, who said personnel from Hpakant and the nearby town of Lone Khin were involved in the rescue effort, could not be reached for comment.
Access to the mines in the remote north of the country is heavily restricted by the military and internet access is patchy.
Local outlet Kachin News Group said more than 20 miners were killed in the landslide.
- Deadly industry -
Jade and other abundant natural resources in northern Myanmar including timber, gold and amber have helped finance both sides of a decades-long civil war between ethnic Kachin insurgents and the military.
Civilians are frequently trapped in the middle of the fight for control of the mines and their lucrative revenues, with a rampant drug and arms trade further curdling the conflict.
Last year, heavy rainfall triggered a massive landslide in Hpakant that entombed nearly 300 miners.
Watchdog Global Witness estimated that the industry was worth some $31 billion in 2014.
But corruption means very little reaches state coffers.
A February military coup also effectively extinguished any chance of reforms to the dangerous and unregulated industry initiated by ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government, Global Witness said in a report this year.
The coup has also sparked fighting in Kachin state between local insurgents and the Myanmar military, the watchdog said.
'Today's disaster is a haunting reminder that lives too often come second to profit in the jade mines of Hpakant,' Hanna Hindstrom, Senior Campaigner for Myanmar at Global Witness, told AFP.
'As the military is busy turning the sector into a financial lifeline for its illegitimate regime, once again miners are paying the ultimate price.'