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BANGUI, Aug 22 (Reuters) - At least 25 people have died in a collapse at a gold mine 60 km (40 miles) north of the Central African Republic town of Bambari, Ahmat Negat, spokesman for the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels, said on Friday.
The mine at Ndassima is carved deep into a forested hilltop north of Seleka's military headquarters in Bambari. It is owned by Canada's Axmin but was overrun by rebels more than year ago and now forms part of an illicit economy driving sectarian conflict in the country.
At least 27 artisanal miners were buried in the collapse of the mine on Thursday and 25 bodies have been retrieved, Negat said.
"Nobody from our service is on the ground to regulate the miners so they dig without any rules. Lower than 3 metres it gets dangerous and with rain there can be collapses," Georges Yacinth-Oubaouba, a senior official in the Ministry of Mines, told Reuters. He confirmed the incident.
At Ndassima, labourers toil beneath the gaze of Seleka gunmen to produce some 15 kilos of gold a month - worth roughly $350,000 on the local market, or double that in international trade.
Thousands of people have died and more than a million fled their homes in Central African Republic amid the violence between the Seleka rebels and Christian militia.
Some 2,000 French and 6,000 Africa Union peacekeepers have been deployed to Central African Republic, but they have struggled to help the weak transitional government stamp its authority on the mineral-rich country. (Reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kette; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Toby Chopra)