For the second time in less than two years, dozens of people have been killed in a mine collapse at a Canadian-owned gold mining site in the Central African Republic (CAR).
At least 25 people died on Thursday when a gold mine collapsed near the town of Bambari, military headquarters of the mainly Muslim rebel group known as Seleka, reports said.
The mine is owned by Axmin, a company based in Vancouver. But it was overrun by the rebels more than a year ago.
The victims of the deadly collapse were artisanal miners, who use their hands and cheap tools to dig minerals out of the earth in illicit operations that help finance the violent conflicts in the war-ravaged country. The artisanal miners work in dangerous and unregulated conditions, at sites where the rain can trigger collapses.
At least 27 artisanal miners were buried in the latest collapse and at least 25 bodies have been recovered, rebel spokesman Ahmat Negat told the Reuters news agency. A government official also confirmed the collapse and the death toll, Reuters said.
The mine is located at Ndassima, about 60 kilometres north of Bambari. Rebel gunmen supervise the labourers at the mine, who reportedly produce about 15 kilograms of gold a month.
This is the second time the mine has collapsed since December, 2012, when Axmin declared a force majeure after rebels briefly occupied its base camp close to Ndassima village.
This past June, the company said there had been at least 37 deaths reported from a collapse of the pit during heavy rains. At the time, the company acknowledged that the illegal mining was a great risk to the safety of the miners, who build tunnels and deep pits in unstable conditions.
Late in 2013, Axmin said it had reached an agreement with the interim CAR government to develop the mine and had been planning to send its engineers and geologists to the Ndassima site. It is unclear whether the company succeeded in doing so amid the political unrest in the country.
The company did not respond to e-mails and calls requesting comment. It says on its web site that it is closely monitoring the situation in CAR.
Evan Cinq-Mars, an analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect who researches the Central African Republic, said the fatal accident shows "the dangerous lack of governance that plagues the CAR, particularly when it comes to resource management."
For months, the mainly Muslim rebels and mainly Christian militias have been fighting a brutal war against each other, with civilians paying the heaviest price. The rebels won control of the government in March, 2013, but were later pushed out. About 8,000 French and African peacekeeping troops have tried to keep order, but the clashes have continued, and a United Nations peacekeeping force of 12,000 is scheduled to begin deploying in the country next month.