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By Shoon Naing

YANGON (Reuters) - A landslide killed at least 15 people in northern Myanmar on Saturday, with 45 others injured after the latest disaster in the Hpakant jade mining region, a local official said.

Miners searching for the precious mineral were buried by muddy earth from a slope that collapsed, said Kyaw Swar Aung, the administrator of Hpakant, in the northern Kachin state.

The search in the area of Lone Khin was called off for the day after 15 bodies were pulled from the mud and 45 injured people were taken to a nearby hospital, he told Reuters by phone.

“We stopped the search at 5:30pm and will continue tomorrow,” he said, adding that authorities had appealed to people in the area to report anyone still missing.

He said the affected miners were not working for a company. Informal jade scavengers, or hand-pickers, are frequently caught up in landslides in the poorly regulated mining area.

In May, at least 14 miners were killed in a similar collapse in the same area, and more than 100 people were killed in a landslide in Hpakant in 2015.

Han Thar, secretary for the ruling National League for Democracy party in Hpakant, spoke to Reuters from just above where the landslide had occurred, and said more people may still be buried in the rubble.

“There might have been about 100 people,” he said. “When the land fell into a pond, the workers in the water were buried by soil.”

Environmental advocacy group Global Witness put the value of jade production in Myanmar at around $31 billion in 2014. Experts say most of the stones are smuggled to China.

(Reporting by Shoon Naing; Editing by Simon Lewis and Stephen Powell)

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Reuters