Mine collapse kills 28 in north Afghanistan

Rescue teams in northern Afghanistan searched a collapsed mine for bodies Sunday after at least 28 miners were confirmed dead and officials said no more survivors were trapped underground.

The coal mine in a remote area of Samangan province caved in after a gas explosion on Saturday, and emergency workers had earlier reported that 12 miners remained alive inside the mine.

"Today 24 bodies have been recovered and four that are still under the rubble have been pronounced dead," Mohammad Sediq Azizi, Samangan's provincial spokesman, told AFP.

"People are now holding funeral ceremonies for those who died. Around 100 other workers were taken to hospital, but discharged after brief treatment."

Azizi said the mine appeared to have collapsed after a massive gas explosion at the site in Ruyi Du Ab district.

Mosadiqullah Muzafari, Samangan's deputy security chief, said four rescue workers were badly injured during the emergency operation.

President Hamid Karzai expressed his condolences to the victims' families and ordered an investigation by the mines ministry.

Conditions in Afghan coal mines can be dangerously primitive, with miners working with old equipment and little ventilation or safety gear.

The US conducted an aerial mining survey of Afghanistan in 2006, building on data from the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, and found evidence of $1 trillion of minerals deposits in the country. There were strong results for copper and iron.

Such potential wealth offers a glimmer of hope to a country ravaged by decades of war and facing further turmoil as 87,000 international troops fighting Taliban insurgents head home by the end of next year.

The government is counting on commercial mining as a future source of much-needed income, and a new mining law is due to be passed soon to regulate the industry and encourage investment.

But the legislation is stuck in parliament after long delays and disputes between competing ministries.

More setbacks could push the bill beyond elections in April, when Karzai is due to step down after 12 years in power and Afghanistan looks set for a period of political uncertainty.

Economic development is considered vital to stop the country from sinking back into civil war and to stem Islamist extremism.

Afghanistan is currently heavily dependent on foreign donors, but there are fears that once NATO-led troops withdraw, aid money will decline and investors will leave due to security concerns.

Last year, a donors' conference in Tokyo pledged $16 billion to Afghanistan on strict condition that progress is made to reform the country as NATO troops depart.