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Tunnel collapse kills 2 workers at Indonesian mine

Jefrey Pattirajawane, Associated Press

TIMIKA, Indonesia (AP) -- Rescuers have found two bodies and have evacuated three of more than 30 miners who have been trapped for a day after a tunnel caved in at a giant U.S.-owned gold and copper mine in eastern Indonesia, authorities said Wednesday.

The search was continuing for the other trapped miners, whose fate was unclear, Papua police spokesman Lt. Col. Gede Sumerta Jaya said. The cave-in occurred Tuesday at Grasberg mine in remote Mimika district in Papua, the easternmost province in the vast archipelago nation.

The mine is owned by Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. A statement from PT Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary that runs the mine, said a tunnel in the underground training area collapsed. The company believed 40 employees and contract workers were in a classroom in the tunnel when the accident happened, and three workers managed to escape unhurt from the scene.

"The rescue process is difficult and will take some time to complete," the statement said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with our fellow employees and their families as we proceed with rescue efforts."

Thousands of workers are employed at the mine, which has been plagued by violence since production began in the 1970s. In 2011, production was crippled when 8,000 unionized employees walked off the job after demanding higher pay. The four-month strike ended after the company agreed to a 37 percent wage hike and improved benefits.

The restive province holds some of the world's largest gold and copper reserves.