Five miners were killed and another left seriously injured in an explosion May 10 at a Chinese coal mine in the Ta Oy district of Saravane province in southern Laos, sources told RFA on Thursday.
Two of those killed in the blast were Lao, with the other three and the injured worker all Chinese, a district official told RFA’s Lao Service, adding that initial reports had said only four were killed.
“In a later report, we learned that five had been killed,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We are still investigating the incident, but have no further details yet.”
The men who were killed had been trapped when rocks fell on them following the blast, another Ta Oy official said, citing accounts by witnesses to the explosion.
“They said the miners had brought the explosives to the target area for blasting, but they don’t know what happened after that. There may have been a malfunction of some kind. The rocks exploded, trapping the men and causing their deaths,” he said.
The miner injured in the blast was sent to a local hospital for treatment, Ta Oy district governor Boun Neuang Luang Kham Tai told a Lao radio station in an interview later that day, adding that the bodies of the dead Chinese miners were taken to managers at the coal mine for handling.
“We couldn’t discuss more than this because of the language barrier between us and the injured man and company officials,” he said.
The bodies of the Lao miners who were killed were returned to their families so that religious ceremonies could be held for them, and Lao authorities are conducting an investigation into the cause of the accident so that compensation can be claimed from the Chinese company, he said.
Stronger safety measures needed
A district villager who witnessed the incident told RFA that he wants the coal mine now to put stronger measures in place to protect the safety and lives of its workers and to provide fair compensation to the families who lost their loved ones.
“If they are going to blast rocks, they should warn people to move far away from the areas of the blast,” he said. “What happened in this case should serve as a lesson for everyone to learn.”
The Chinese company involved in the blast had been operating in Ta Oy since 2012, though how long they have held a concession from the Lao government to work there is still unclear, one district official told RFA, also speaking on condition he not be named.
“The company has hired many workers to excavate coal and transport rocks by truck, and most of the tasks assigned to these men are very dangerous,” he added.
The Lao Ministry of Planning and Investment reported on Jan. 15, that 2,607 Lao workers out of a total work force of around 27,000 are employed by foreign companies now invested in 12 special economic zones across the country.
Most workers are Chinese, making up about about 20,000 of the total, with Vietnamese workers numbering about 3,500, according to Ministry figures.
Chinese-owned industrial, hydropower, mining, and tourism projects in Laos have meanwhile caused friction with local residents over pollution, loss of farmland, and economic compensation for displaced villagers, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Richard Finney.