KINSHASA, Congo -- At least 60 miners were killed when a shaft collapsed in a remote part of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where local armed groups complicated rescue efforts, officials said Thursday.
The local miners were digging for gold in shafts up to 300 feet underground when the accident occurred on Monday in Mambasa territory in Orientale Province, said Simon Pierre Bolombo, the provincial head of mines.
He said the collapse had been caused by a landslide.
"It was deep in the forest, there was a landslide, at least 60 people have been killed," Bolombo told Reuters by telephone from the town of Bunia in northeast Congo.
The eastern region of Congo has been suffering from drenching rain in recent days, prompting a visit by U.N. humanitarian chief Baroness Valerie Amos.
Congo's minister of mines, Martin Kabwelulu, told Reuters the workers were there illegally and that their shafts were deeper than the 32-yard limit required by the code for small-scale mining.
The area where the mine is situated is currently in the hands of a local rebel group -- known as Mai Mai Morgan -- which will likely hamper any rescue efforts, Bolombo said.
"(The mine) is controlled by the rebels. ... There's almost total insecurity, it's difficult for us (to reach)," he added.
Mining companies AngloGold Ashanti and Randgold operate in the region, which is known to be rich in tin and gold, although the accident did not take place on either company's concession, officials said.
Congo, a vast country in central Africa, is mired in poverty. The country has been scarred by decades of dictatorship and war. Many Congolese try to eke out a living through small-scale mining, a dangerous and unregulated practice.
Accidents are common in open-pit mines, where there are few if any safety precautions. Hundreds of thousands of people work in unsafe conditions, some of them forced to mine by some of the armed groups and government soldiers who illegally profit from Congo's massive mineral resources.
Armed groups across eastern Congo use illegal and small-scale mining to help fund their activities, despite international attempts to stamp out so-called "conflict minerals."
Push for cleanly sourced minerals
A report this week by the Washington-based Enough Project that ranked companies on conflict minerals said leading tech companies have proven it is possible to invest in cleanly sourced minerals from Congo that benefit local communities instead of armed groups.
The report praised Intel, Motorola Solutions, HP and Apple as "pioneers of progress," but gave Nintendo zero points for making "no known effort."
Companies have been responding to U.S. legislation demanding clean supply chains and to increasing consumer activism.
The group also gave high points to Philips, ACER, Dell and Microsoft. Among poor performers it ranks HTC, Sharp, Nikon and Canon. They could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reuters and The Associated Oress contributed to this report.
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