60 die in Darfur gold mine collapse: local official

More than 60 people were killed when a desert gold mine collapsed in an area of Sudan's Darfur where hundreds died in fighting over the precious commodity in January-February, the district chief said Thursday.

It was not known how many people may still be missing after Monday's accident in Jebel Amir district, more than 200 kilometres (125 miles) northwest of the North Darfur state capital El Fasher.

"The number of people who died is more than 60," Haroun al-Hassan, local commissioner for Jebel Amir, said on Thursday, adding that rescue operations at the unofficial mine were still taking place.

"I cannot give exact figures because no one got precise numbers of how many people were going inside the tunnel," which descends 40 metres (yards), he said.

Rescuers were using hand tools to try to reach the victims, he said, without specifying whether anyone might still be alive.

"We cannot use machines because if they came near, the ground will collapse. People are using traditional tools and because of this, the rescue is very slow," Hassan said, unable to give more details.

"I myself saw this land collapse. It started from Monday evening but the main collapse happened on Tuesday," said a miner who works in a different part of the area.

He said it is located in the hill or "jebel" which gives the area its name.

The miner, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed that it would be difficult to know how many men were buried.

"Nobody takes the names of those who go inside. Only their colleagues or their relatives know where they are," he said.

A resident of El Sireaf, the main town in the surrounding region, said he visited the remote site of the accident.

"The problem is that those small mines are so close together and if one of them falls it will affect the others. That is what happened in this mine. All the neighbouring mines collapsed," he said, also declining to be named.

Residents and members of the security forces were using hand tools to dig out the victims, he added.

Sudan is trying to boost exports of gold and other non-petroleum products after the separation of South Sudan two years ago left Khartoum without three-quarters of its crude oil production.

Inflation has soared above 40 percent and the currency has plunged in value because Sudan lost most of its international payments capacity and half its fiscal revenues.

Sudan's Mining Minister Kamal Abdel Latif said traditional land-based mining produced 41 tonnes of gold worth $2.5 billion to November last year, with another 50 tonnes targeted for this year.

In 2011, the government estimated there were more than 200,000 unlicenced artisanal gold producers, generating most of the country's output of the metal.

The country's central bank has entered the market, trying to buy from the small producers.

A minority of Sudan's gold production comes from official mines.

Seven weeks of clashes between two Arab tribes in Jebel Amir in January-February killed more than 500 members of the Beni Hussein tribal group, a Benni Hussein member of parliament for the area said earlier.

The violence uprooted an estimated 100,000 people.

The fighting between the Beni Hussein and Rezeigat erupted when a leader of the latter tribe who ho is a border guard officer apparently laid claim to a gold-rich area inside Beni Hussein territory, Amnesty International said.

One humanitarian source said the Beni Hussein had refused to pay newly-imposed government mining fees which amounted to "huge, huge money".