Rescuers are struggling to rescue 15 miners in India’s remote northeast, missing since the middle of last month (STR)

New Delhi (AFP) – Two miners have been killed in India’s remote northeast, police said Monday as rescuers kept up efforts to save 15 workers trapped for over three weeks in an illegal mine elsewhere in the region.

The two men were likely hit by boulders as they tried to extract coal while digging narrow tunnels on the slopes of a hill in mineral-rich Meghalaya state on Friday, police said.

An “enquiry is underway” and the owner of the quarry is being sought, police superintendent Sylvester Nongtnger said in a statement.

The incident comes as the fate of 15 other miners trapped in an illegal coal mine — known as a “rat mine” — also in Meghalaya remained uncertain.

The miners have been missing since December 13 when water gushed into the narrow pit from a nearby river.

Multiple teams from the National Disaster Response Force, Coal India and the Indian Navy have been struggling to pump out water from the 380-foot (115-metre) deep mine so that divers can approach the area where the men are believed to be trapped.

A federal environment court banned rat-hole mining in Meghalaya in 2014 after local communities complained it was polluting water sources and endangering miners.

But the practice — which involves digging into hills and burrowing narrow tunnels to reach the coal seam — continues with thousands of impoverished migrants risking their lives as rat-hole miners.

On Sunday, Coal India workers managed to pump water out from the main shaft, police said.

Many of the miners’ families though fear it is now too late for them to be found alive.

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