updated 3/19/2010 5:50:14 PM ET 2010-03-19T21:50:14

A top official in Sierre Leone's government said he raced to a town in the country Friday after news reports said at least 200 people had been killed in a mining accident there, only to find out it was a hoax.

Minister of Mineral Resources Alpha Kanu said that when he, dozens of police officers, soldiers and firefighters arrived in the quiet African mining town, they found miners at rest and preparing for customary Friday prayers.

"It's a complete hoax," Kanu said.

"The whole country is awash with grief for something that is not true at all," he said in an interview with The Associated Press on his cell phone as he returned from Bo, 150 miles south of Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital.

Kanu said the rumor began with local radio stations, then was picked up by international media. At one point, the French Foreign Ministry issued a statement in Paris offering its condolences to the mine accident victims, and officials at the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone were trying to try to confirm the reports.

Mining accidents are common in Africa's unregulated artisanal mines, where poor villagers use crude instruments and their bare hands to dig through the dirt. Sierra Leone — the country upon which the film "Blood Diamond" is based — has many diamond and gold mines.

The nation recently emerged from civil war.

Kanu said he believes the hoax was intended to detract from the newly elected government's efforts to build roads, hospitals and schools in Sierre Leone.

"People are still disgruntled," he said. "And some people are full of mischief. This is wicked propaganda by people who don't like to see good news coming out of Sierra Leone."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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