Rockslide at Myanmar jade mine kills nine, around 20 missing

YANGON (Reuters) - A rockslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar killed at least nine miners, and rescuers were searching for around 20 others, state media reported on Wednesday, two days after the accident. The miners were searching for pieces of jade in a 300-foot high heap of excavated rubble when it collapsed, the state-owned Myanma Alinn newspaper reported. The disaster happened near the town of Hpakant, 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Mandalay, in an area where scores of mining companies operate. "The rescue work is continuing," the newspaper said. Accidents are frequent in Hpakant and victims are often "handpickers" -- independent miners who find jade fragments by combing through unstable mountains of rubble dumped by mining companies. At least two people were killed in a similar incident in January. Hpakant is the largest source of Myanmar jade, which netted $3.4 billion in sales at the annual gems emporium last October, according to The Irrawaddy, a Myanmar-focused website and magazine, which cited an official from the Mines Ministry. Estimated revenues from the illegal trade dwarf that figure. The Harvard Ash Center published a report in July 2013 that put unofficial sales at about $8 billion in 2011, with almost all of that jade smuggled over the border into China. (Reporting by Jared Ferrie; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)