Trapped South African miners refusing help in fear of being arrested

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BENONI, South Africa (CNN) — Nineteen miners have been freed after being trapped since Saturday in an illegal gold mine in South Africa.

But the rest are refusing to come out because they fear being arrested, according to rescuers from ER24 emergency medical service.

One miner is trying to persuade the approximately 11 miners who are still underground to come up, ER24 said.

An initial claim by the miners that there were 200 trapped is apparently false, Rogers Mamaila of Ekurhuleni Emergency Services told CNN.

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

Because the miners still underground are refusing help, ER24 has stopped its efforts, a spokesperson told CNN. Police and mine security officials are staying there, however.

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.