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11 illegal miners rescued in S. Africa

JOHANNESBURG — Debris trapped men who were working illegally in an abandoned mine in South Africa, but rescue workers cleared the shaft entrance and at least 11 miners were escorted to safety Sunday, officials said.

Some of the victims still below the surface in the gold mine shaft near Johannesburg appeared to be reluctant to emerge because of fears they would be arrested, emergency responder Kobus Du Plooy said by telephone from the scene. He said he did not know how many people were still in the shaft.

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Some of those who came out were dehydrated but in good spirits, Du Plooy said. Earlier, rescue vehicles and equipment were brought to the site to stabilize the ground before the rescue operation began.

They were believed to have been trapped since Saturday morning and police patrolling in the area heard their screams for help, the South African Press Association reported.

Rescue teams arriving at the scene spoke to about 30 miners near the top of the old shaft, whose entrance was covered by a large rock, the news agency said.

Those miners said as many as 200 others were trapped further down a steep tunnel at the mine in Benoni, on the outskirts of South Africa’s biggest city.

Illegal mining is common in South Africa, a major producer of gold and platinum. Workers brave unsafe conditions below ground amid reports of the involvement of organized crime and even clashes between rival groups seeking to extract precious metal from the shafts.

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