msnbc.com news services
updated 5/6/2008 5:44:25 AM ET 2008-05-06T09:44:25

At least 13 illegal gold miners were killed in a landslide in Indonesia's remote Papua province, officials said. Nine other are reported missing and feared dead.

A spokesman for Freeport-McMoRan Cooper & Gold Inc. says the landslide occurred about three miles from the company's Grasberg gold and copper mine.

The spokesman, Mindo Pangaribuan, says the victims were digging illegally and the company has sent heavy lifting equipment to assist in efforts to retrieve bodies.

Heavy rains
Police say the landslide struck the mining camp after heavy rains. The camp is more than 2,000 miles from Jakarta.

A torrent of mud fell into a river, burying local miners who were working on Monday night, Godhelp Cornelis Mansnembra, the police chief in the nearest main town of Mimika, said.

“They are not Freeport’s workers. They’re community miners who often mine in Freeport’s area. Thousands of people often dig gold there,” he said.

Landslides kill dozens of people every year in Indonesia, a vast tropical archipelago spanning more than 17,000 islands along the equator.

The Grasberg mine has long been controversial because of its environmental impact, the share of revenue going to Papuans and the legality of payments to Indonesian security forces who helped guard the site.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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