Sudan official denies dozens die in gold mine collapse
AFP, Tuesday 7 May 2013
A senior official from Sudan's Darfur region said that only five people died in the collapse of an unlicensed gold mine last week, disputing estimates that dozens perished

A senior official from Sudan's Darfur region has said only five people died in the collapse of an unlicensed gold mine last week, disputing estimates that dozens perished.

But a colleague of the miners, who earlier gave AFP figures for the number believed trapped, dismissed the official's comment as a fabrication.

And international peacekeepers denied claims that the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) accompanied authorities to the mine site.

Al-Fatih Abdel Aziz, acting governor of North Darfur state, said a government team had visited the site in Jebel Amir district, more than 200 kilometres (125 miles) northwest of the North Darfur state capital El Fasher.

"One mine collapsed with 10 people inside. Out of those, five died and five were injured. We recovered three bodies but could not get the two others because of a further collapse," Aziz was quoted as saying by the official SUNA news agency late Monday.

But the miner said "this guy is telling lies," as other miners believed more than 100 were trapped inside.

The man, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Aziz was "depending on information" from Jebel Amir district chief Haroun al-Hassan, who was not even able to reach the site.

Last Thursday, Hassan himself said "the number of people who died is more than 60," but later said it was unclear how many victims there were.

According to SUNA, the government delegation to the mine was accompanied by members of the UNAMID peacekeeping mission.

Acting spokesman Christopher Cycmanick told AFP "UNAMID did not accompany the local authorities to the mine area."

"And we did not certify any kind of information in relation to this tragic incident."

Nine rescuers also disappeared when the ground collapsed around them, the miner told AFP, adding that eight bodies were pulled out before the rescue was called off on Saturday because it was too dangerous to continue.

A resident of El Sireaf, the main town in the surrounding region, told AFP he visited the remote site of the accident and found that many small mines had collapsed, not one as Aziz claimed.

"The problem is that those small mines are so close together and if one of them falls it will affect the others. That is what happened in this mine. All the neighbouring mines collapsed," he said.

Senior officials met on Sunday to discuss ensuring security of the mines and improving administration, SUNA reported.

Jebel Amir is the main mining area among 20 sites in the state, the report said.

Production from wildcat gold mines has become a key revenue source for the cash-strapped Sudanese government.

It is also a tempting but dangerous occupation for residents of Sudan's poverty-stricken western region of Darfur which has been devastated by a decade of civil war, inter-tribal fighting and other violence.

A civil society activist in Darfur said the mining tragedy "reflects the poverty of Darfuri people" and how easy it is for them to lose their lives.

But she called it "a small incident" that takes attention away from the wider crisis in Darfur.

A humanitarian source said earlier this year that close to 70,000 people were digging for gold in Jebel Amir.

Seven weeks of clashes over gold between two Arab tribes in Jebel Amir early this year killed more than 500 members of the Beni Hussein tribe, an MP for the group has said.

The violence uprooted an estimated 100,000 people.