North Korean worker among four killed in Malaysia mine accident

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - The death toll from an explosion in a Malaysian coal mine manned by foreign workers, including North Koreans, has risen to four, the police said Wednesday, while around two dozen others were injured, some with serious burns.

The accident took place on Saturday in Selantik, in the interior of Malaysia's rugged Sarawak state, which is located on Borneo island. "The death toll has risen to four after an Indonesian worker succumbed to injuries on Tuesday," Mr Chai Khin Chung, Sarawak's deputy police chief, told AFP.

A North Korean, a Myanmar national, and another Indonesian already have died as a result of the accident, in which underground gases are believed to have ignited, triggering the blast and a subsequent fire.

Other officials have warned the toll could rise due to the severity of injuries suffered by survivors. Mr Chai said the authorities were investigating what exactly caused the accident.

The authorities have said the mine was operating legally and employed 119 workers, with 49 of them from impoverished North Korea.

As many as 100,000 North Koreans are believed to be working abroad, with their remittances a valuable source of foreign currency for the isolated regime.

The mine also had Chinese, Myanmar, Indonesian, and Bangladeshi workers. Officials have claimed they were all legal workers.

Malaysia's treatment of foreign labourers is frequently criticised.

A report released in September by United States-based fair-labour organisation Verite said nearly one third of the 350,000 workers in Malaysia's electronics manufacturing sector - many of them from impoverished neighbouring countries - toil in conditions akin to "modern slavery."

It said many endured a form of indentured servitude, unable to pay off excessive recruitment fees and often left powerless by employers who confiscate their passports.

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