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At Least Nine Killed as Congo Uranium Mine Collapses - 2004-07-12


Nine people have been confirmed dead and a further 30 are feared dead after a uranium mine in a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo collapsed late last week. David Lewis reports from the capital, Kinshasa, the mine supplied uranium for the first atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Shinkolobwe is one of Congo's oldest mines and it was officially declared closed last year. Given the nature of the mine, the government had even asked donors to help it prevent small-scale miners from returning to mine illegally.

However, while there is no mining for uranium these days, people hunting copper and cobalt still enter the mine illegally. And last Friday, the mine, which is some 1,500 kilometers to the south east of Kinshasa, collapsed, burying dozens of people.

So far, nine bodies have been found and another six people have been rescued, but fellow miners taking part in the rescue attempts say time is running out for the other 30 still missing underground.

A spokesman in the ministry of mines said that a government delegation would be heading to the region on Tuesday to investigate, in particular to determine how miners were still able to gain access to the shaft, when it was officially closed.

It took several days for news of the accident to reach the capital, Kinshasa.

The Shinkolobwe mine provided the uranium for the first atomic bombs, which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in 1945.

Although the mine was officially closed this year, small-scale private miners have still been able to get into the mine to dig for copper and cobalt, which are in high demand and sold in Asia.

Congo has one of the largest mineral reserves in Africa, but the vast country is struggling to recover from years of war, the latest of which lasted five years and killed at least three million people, mostly from hunger and disease.

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