World News

Sierra Leone minister denies mine collapse

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone’s minister of mineral resources denied on Friday that at least 200 people were killed in the collapse of a gold mine, causing confusion after his own ministry had reported the disaster.

The ministry said more than 200 miners died when a trench collapsed at an unofficial gold mine in the southern Bo district, about 290 km (180 miles) from the capital Freetown.

The minister, Alpha Kanu, said later the reports were untrue. “Not even a chicken has died, not even a cow is sick,” he told Reuters, saying he had visited the area. “There is no mine collapse, it was all just rumor.”

A Mineral Resources Ministry spokesman said earlier the walls of a trench dug by the miners caved in, burying many of those working in it, and police also reported a disaster.

The reason for the confusion was not clear.

“A forty feet (12-meter) pit was dug out to mine gold,” a senior police source said. “Hundreds of (miners) entered the pit, and when it collapsed it trapped them.”

Children as young as 13 were working in the mine when it caved in, police said, adding that about 20 people escaped.

Unofficial gold mining is common in Africa where miners usually have no professional training or equipment and often dig by hand.

Additional reporting by Katrina Manson; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Andrew Dobbie