Trapped South African miners refuse to leave pit

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Media captionFootage showed some miners emerging from the pit

The operation to rescue illegal gold miners trapped in an abandoned mine in South Africa has been halted overnight.

So far 11 miners have been rescued from the shaft near Johannesburg.

Other trapped miners refused to leave after discovering they faced arrest at the surface. It is unclear how many remain underground, with reports suggesting they could number 200.

A full rescue operation will not restart unless the miners request it, said an emergency services official.

Werner Vermaak of ER24 told the BBC the mine site would be guarded overnight by a private security company, who can call for help if the miners change their mind. They could also prevent unauthorised rescue attempts.

Mr Vermaak said the miners would not be denied help if they called for it."They will be offered rescue should they decide to come out," he said, adding "but they will be arrested should they come to the surface again," he said.

Lacking ladders or ropes, they will not be able to leave the mine without help, he added.

Conflicting claims

Rescuers are still unable to confirm how many miners are trapped. After initially being told by the group they were in contact with that there were a further 200 miners trapped elsewhere, communications were cut off when the miners realised they faced arrest.

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Media captionThe BBC's Nomsa Maseko says some of the miners have left their stash of gold in the mine in case they are arrested.

They have also been unable to verify claims the accident was caused by rival miners pushing boulders into the shaft. Police are investigating the allegations.

The approximately 20 miners trapped near the top of the mine are not said to be in immediate danger, and had been sent food and water.

The miners are believed to have been trapped since Saturday morning but there no reports of any injuries, amongst either the trapped or rescued miners.

The mine, in an open field near the town of Benoni, is thought to have been an illegal operation.

Police heard cries for help when they were patrolling the area on Sunday morning.

The first group of miners trapped near the surface began to emerge at 16:00 GMT on Sunday (18:00 local time), where their health was assessed before they were arrested.

Safety concerns

Mining is a vital part of the South African economy and the country is the fourth-biggest gold exporter.

According to South Africa's Department of Mineral Resources, a 2008 study of the gold sector found that an estimated $509m (£309m) in revenue was lost a year as a result of illegal mining.

South Africa has some of the world's deepest gold mines and safety is a major issue.

In recent years the majority of deaths underground have occurred in illegal mines.

Earlier this month nine South African miners died in three different incidents at various legal gold mines operated by the Harmony gold company.

At least 82 men died in a fire at a Harmony gold mine in 2009.

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