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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
DR Congo uranium mine collapses
Miner at Shinkolobwe
Although it is officially closed, thousands worked at the mine
Part of a uranium mine has collapsed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, killing at least nine people.

The Shinkolobwe mine supplied the uranium in the bombs which the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II.

It was officially closed earlier this year but people still mine there for coltan, used in mobile phones.

Nuclear experts have raised fears that Congolese uranium could fall into the hands of terror groups.

'Trapped'

Petwe Kapande, mayor of the nearby town of Likasi, told the BBC that nine bodies had been found.

Some 30 miners were underground when the roof collapsed on Friday.

"When I arrived, I found that six of the clandestine miners had been pulled out safe and sound, but others still remained trapped in the ruins," Mwema Teli, a safety official for the Congo government mines agency, told the Associated Press news agency.

Because of poor communications in DR Congo, news of the collapse only reached the capital, Kinshasa on Monday.

Fears

Earlier this year, the BBC's Arnaud Zajtman found some 6,000 people working there illegally, even though it had officially been shut down.

Shinkolobwe mine
Mobile phone demand has driven the miners to Shinkolobwe
At the same time, Mines Minister Diomi Ndongala appealed to the international community to help restore security in the area and prevent access to the mine.

When DR Congo became independent in 1960, the two main uranium shafts were flooded and covered with a concrete slab by the Belgians before their departure.

But activities resumed in 1997.

The mined cobalt is sold to private businessmen who operate furnaces in the area and then export it to the world market via neighbouring Zambia.

The UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, expressed concern about the mine.

It said that trace elements of uranium might be extracted from the mine as an associated mineral along with the cobalt for use by terror groups.

As a result, in February of this year, President Joseph Kabila announced he had forbidden access to the mine. But the measure was never implemented.

A fragile peace is holding in DR Congo after five years of war, which dragged in at least six neighbouring armies.


SEE ALSO:
Congo's coltan rush
01 Aug 01  |  Africa
Congo wants help at uranium mine
25 Mar 04  |  Africa
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
26 May 04  |  Country profiles


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