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Indonesian Miners Feared Dead After Fire


In Indonesia, as many as 12 gold miners are feared dead after a fire was set at the bottom of a shaft where they were working in the early hours of Thursday morning. Most of the dead were illegal miners who apparently suffocated after a fire started at the bottom of the 500-metre shaft where they were working.

Four bodies were removed from the mine Thursday morning, and hopes were fading for at least another eight men who are believed to have been trapped inside.

Rescue efforts were hampered by heat and smoke which prevented emergency workers from entering the mine for hours after the blaze.

Media reports say most of the dead were part of a group who had bribed security guards to allow them into the mine at night to remove gold-bearing ore.

Some survivors accused employees of the mine owners of setting the fire to flush out the illegal miners, but the company -- PT Antam -- denied the allegations, suggesting it might have been lit by the illegal miners themselves.

PT Antam said one of the dead in Thursday morning's fire was an employee at the Mount Pongkor mine, which has a record of deadly accidents. More than 65 people have died at the mine in the past seven years.

Indonesia is one of the world's largest gold producers, and the rich seams of ore have always attracted large numbers of impoverished illegal miners who steal the ore and smelt it themselves. Violent confrontations between mine companies and gangs of illegal freelancers are common.

Environmental groups are also deeply concerned about illegal gold mining. The stolen ore is refined using highly toxic mercury, which escapes into the environment, poisoning water supplies for miles around.