Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Dozens of goldmine workers killed in tunnel collapse in northern Afghanistan

At least 50 people were mining gold illegally in Kohistan district, Badakhshan province when their tunnel collapsed

At least 30 people mining gold illegally were killed in Afghanistan's northern Badakhshan province when their tunnel collapsed on Sunday, officials said.

Sanaullah Rohani, a provincial police spokesman in Badakhshan, said a further seven were injured while working inside the mine in Kohistan district.

Officials said the victims were villagers who were mining for gold illegally, rather than in a government project.

"Poor villagers during winters try to compensate their earnings by pursuing illegal mining. They dig tunnels to enter the mines," Nek Mohammad Nazari, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said.

"We have sent a rescue team to the area, but villagers have already started removing bodies from the site," she said.

The spokesman said a 60-metre tunnel dug deep into a river bed to search for gold, caved in, conflicting earlier reports of a landslide.

Mr Rohani said at least 50 illegal miners were present in the mine when the incident occurred and two rescue teams were dispatched to rescue the victims.

Defence ministry helicopters have been dispatched to deliver cash to the families of the victims and airlift the wounded to hospitals, said Hashmat Bahaduri, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority.

Bahaduri confirmed the casualty toll but warned the figures could change.

Families of the wounded will receive 10,000 afghanis (about Dh 490) in compensation, while those of the dead will get 50,000 afghanis (Dh 2440), he said.

Badakhshan is a remote, mountainous province in northeast Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan, China and Pakistan.

Gold is one of the country's biggest exports, accounting for approximately $243 million of the country's exports and has been seen as a potential way to revive Afghanistan's struggling economy.

But illegal mining of the resource is common, with the Taliban relying on the sector for much of its revenue.

Last year the Afghan government signed two contracts for the exploration of copper and gold deposits in northern provinces, to try to prevent illegal mining and move away from its dependence on foreign aid by tapping its natural resources.

Most of the country's minerals remain untapped as the raging conflict and lack of regulation deter international miners from exploiting the huge reserves.

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