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Page last updated at 17:12 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 18:12 UK

South African miners die in blaze

South African miners
Nearly 200 workers die in South African mines every year

Thirty-six illegal miners have been killed in an underground fire at a disused mine in South Africa.

The bodies were brought to the surface at the weekend at Harmony Gold's Eland mine in Free State province.

The firm said 300 illegal miners had been arrested in the province over the past two weeks and would be prosecuted.

Illegal mining is rife in South Africa where prospectors often sneak past security at one mine and then exit from a different shaft miles away.

"The bodies of 36 criminal miners have been brought to surface at the shaft during the past weekend by fellow criminal miners," Harmony said in a statement, reported Reuters news agency.

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The BBC's Mpho Lakaje in Johannesburg says the authorities have launched an investigation to establish if there are more bodies underground.

But Harmony - the third biggest gold producer in Africa - said it would not send its employees on underground searches because it was too dangerous.

It is not the first time the remains of illegal miners have been found in the same shaft.

Two weeks ago five bodies were recovered and in 2007, 25 illegal miners died in a similar underground fire.

South Africa is one of the world's biggest gold producers.



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