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More South African miners freed; others refuse to come out for fear of arrest

By Ashley Fantz and Brent Swails, CNN
February 17, 2014 -- Updated 1758 GMT (0158 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: More miners are freed Monday after two days in the mine
  • NEW: Rescuers say a total of 24 have been freed; a handful are still underground
  • Miners who are freed are taken into custody after medical checks
  • Miners were working in a long-abandoned gold mine illegally, authorities say

Benoni, South Africa (CNN) -- More miners were freed Monday after being trapped for two days in an illegal gold mine in South Africa, authorities said.

After some miners surfaced, authorities said a total of 24 had been freed, according to rescuers from ER24 emergency medical service. The miners said they were trapped on Saturday, and the rescue effort began on Sunday.

But a handful of others still underground were refusing to come out because they feared being arrested, the rescuers said.

One miner was trying to persuade the approximately six miners who were still underground to come up, ER24 said.

The mine is an abandoned gold mine in Benoni, just outside Johannesburg.

Those who have surfaced were taken to a medical station and checked for injuries, and once they cleared, were taken into custody by local police, ER24 said.

The miners who've emerged are in good health, officials said.

Earlier, boulders blocking the miners from exiting the mine were removed, ER24 reported.

Initially ER24 spokesman Werner Vermaak said that a rockslide trapped the miners. But Govan Whittles, a reporter for South Africa Eyewitness News at the scene, said the miners told rescuers that a rival group dropped boulders down the shaft to trap them.

Police looking for illegal dumping heard the men crying for help.

Gold-rich South Africa has repeatedly warned its citizens against trying to dig into old mines. Illegal mining "poses a danger not only to the miners themselves, but to the communities, as well as the economy and existing mines," Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said in September.

South Africa's Parliament has discussed legalizing the illegal mines to allow the miners to earn a living, but the cost of bringing the mines up to modern safety codes could be prohibitive.

READ: Eight bodies found after South Africa gold mine fire

READ: 10 killed, 2 rescued in China coal mine flooding

CNN's Brent Swails reported from Benoni. Christabelle Fombu and Emily Smith contributed to this report. Ashley Fantz wrote this story in Atlanta.

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