This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Most of the 18 miners trapped underground in a collapsed gold mine in China’s far-western Xinjiang region have been identified as Uyghur amid ongoing rescue operations five days after the disaster occurred, sources in the region told Radio Free Asia on Thursday.
The mine in Qarayaghach town of Ghulja county, known as Yining in Chinese, and owned by West Gold Yili Co., collapsed at about 1:40 a.m. on Dec. 24.
Of the 40 miners working underground at the time 22 were safely lifted from the mine, though 18 remained trapped inside, according to Chinese media reports.
“Now, the accurate location of the trapped people has been determined,” Lu Wei, chief safety officer of Xinjiang Nonferrous Metals Industry (Group) Co., Ltd. told China’s Xinhua news agency on Dec. 25. “However, the complex situation underground and the unstable surrounding rocks have brought many difficulties to the rescue work. The 18 people remain out of contact.”
Most of the 18 miners still underground are ethnic Uyghurs, RFA learned from the mining company and other relevant organizations in Ghulja in Ili Kazakh, or Yili Hasake, Autonomous Prefecture.
A worker at an emergency service company in the prefecture said the rescue efforts were still ongoing and that most of those trapped underground were Uyghur workers.
“If not all 18 are Uyghurs, then most may be Uyghurs,” she said.
Also, an employee at the mining company initially said both ethnic Han Chinese and Uyghurs were among those trapped, but when reminded that all Qarayaghach residents are ethnic Uyghurs, she said most of the workers still underground were Uyghurs.
RFA had previously reported that the gold and coal mines in Qarayaghach employ residents for low wages and assign them to perform heavy physical work.
A mining company employee told RFA to contact the Ghulja County Party Committee Propaganda Department to obtain the names of the trapped miners. But when contacted to inquire about the trapped miners, a person answering the phone said the Propaganda Department was “not responsible for these things” and hung up the phone.
After the accident, more than 300 emergency workers were mobilized with over 80 rescue vehicles and emergency rescue equipment, according to the Xinhua report.
Employees from the mining company worked with the Western Drilling Company, PetroChina Xinjiang Company, and Xinjiang’s Geological and Mineral Exploration and Development Bureau and other departments to mobilize six drilling rigs and professional teams to rush to the scene, the report said.
Emergency staff from Ghulja County People’s Hospital went to the scene after the accident to provide medical assistance to injured miners, but none of the trapped workers has been brought out yet, said a hospital employee.
The chief of Qarayaghach town told RFA he could only answer questions about the rescue effort by getting permission from the government.
“Send us a formal letter if you want to know its result,” he said.