Most of the 18 miners trapped underground in a collapsed gold mine in China’s far western region of Xinjiang have been identified as Uyghurs five days after the disaster while rescue operations are underway, regional sources told H Talk Asia on Thursday.
The mine in the town of Qarayaghach in Ghulja County, known as Yining in Chinese and owned by West Gold Yili Co., collapsed around 1:40 a.m. on December 24.
According to Chinese media reports, 22 of the 40 miners working underground at the time were safely lifted out of the mine, although 18 remained trapped inside.
“Now the exact whereabouts of the trapped people have been determined,” said Lu Wei, chief safety officer of Xinjiang Nonferrous Metals Industry (Group) Co., Ltd. told China’s Xinhua News Agency on Dec. 25. “However, the situation is complicated. The subsoil and the unstable surrounding rocks have caused many difficulties for the rescue work. The 18 people remain without contact.”
Most of the 18 miners still working underground are ethnic Uyghurs, RFA learned from the mining company and other relevant organizations in Ghulja in Ili Kazakhstan or Yili Hasake Autonomous Prefecture.
An employee of an ambulance company in the prefecture said rescue efforts are still ongoing and most of those trapped underground are Uyghur workers.
“If not all 18 are Uyghurs, then maybe most are,” she said.
Also, an employee at the mining company initially said that both ethnic Han Chinese and Uyghurs were among those trapped, but when reminded that all residents of Qarayaghach were ethnic Uyghurs, she said that most of the workers still in the are underground, Uyghurs are.
RFA previously reported that the gold and coal mines in Qarayaghach employ residents for low wages and assign them heavy manual labour.
An employee of a mining company asked RFA to contact the propaganda department of the Ghulja County Party Committee to get the names of the miners who were captured. But when they were contacted to inquire about the trapped miners, a person on the phone said the propaganda department was “not responsible for these things” and hung up.
After the accident, more than 300 emergency services were mobilized with over 80 rescue vehicles and emergency rescue equipment, according to the Xinhua report.
Personnel from the mining company worked with Western Drilling Company, PetroChina Xinjiang Company and the Xinjiang Geological and Mineral Exploration and Development Bureau and other departments to mobilize six drill rigs and professional teams, who rushed to the site, the report said .
Rescue workers from Ghulja County People’s Hospital went to the scene after the accident to provide medical aid to injured miners, but none of the trapped workers have been taken out yet, a hospital worker said.
The Qarayaghach city chief told RFA he could only answer questions about the rescue effort if he got government permission.
“Send us a formal letter if you want to know the result,” he said.
Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Malcolm Foster.