Runaway prompts police probe into gold mine slavery

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Relatives of 20 residents in a small central commune worry that their loved ones have been enslaved in illicit mines

Fifteen-year-old Dinh Van Diet was rescued from a forest cave after allegedly escaping from virtual slavery in a gold mine in Quang Nam

A 15-year-old boy who fled a brutal existence as a gold miner has prompted a police investigation into concerns that 20 others from his village have suffered a similar fate.

Dinh Van Diet allegedly lost his way while escaping virtual slavery at a gold mine in the central Quang Nam Province's Phuoc Son District one of the areas with the richest gold reserves in Vietnam. Fearing capture, he spent nearly a month hiding in a cave before being rescued by an animal trapper.

Local resident Ho Van Thanh discovered Diet in a stone cave and had him transferred to a local medical center. Thanh said he was checking a wildlife trap in the cave when he came across the boy.

"I thought he was a wild animal," he said. "I intended to shoot him with an arrow but suddenly I saw he was wearing a worn short. His long hair covered much of his pale face."

On Monday, local doctors said Diet was recovering from ulcers and severe infections he contracted during his ordeal. Diet is still frightened, they say.

Diet told doctors and authorities that a man named Trung in May offered him a job in a gold mine for a lot of money.

After two months of backbreaking labor, Diet told his boss he'd had enough.

He asked to either be transferred to an easier job or paid the wages he was owed and released from the mine.

The man refused, Diet said, and beat him for making the request. Diet said he managed to flee in late August but got lost in the forest. He spent his days hiding out in a cave and his nights foraging for wild fruits.

On Wednesday (October 27) Dang Phong, vice chairman of Bac Tra My District People's Committee, the local government, told Thanh Nien that he had called for a police investigation into the case. Phong also commissioned a survey of the number of locals who had accepted jobs outside the area.

Nguyen Thuy, vice director of Quang Nam Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said the agency is working with local authorities to verify Diet's claims. He added that the department has proposed a criminal investigation into the involved parties for exploiting child labor.

More concerns

Diet's father, Dinh Van Nam of Quang Nam's Bac Tra My District said two of his nine children, including 31-year-old Dinh Van Non and 28-year-old Dinh Van Ny are still working at the gold mine.

He has lost contact with both of them.

Nam's family is from the district's Tan Hiep Commune with a total population of 872.

Three quarters of the residents belong to either the Ca Dong or Cor ethnic minorities. Locals say around 20 people are working somewhere outside the commune and have not been heard for a long time.

They are worried that their relatives were also lured to work as gold miners.

When Thanh Nien reporters arrived at the commune to investigate their claims, many locals rushed into their homes searching for photos of their missing relatives.

Dinh Van Doi, 20, has been away at work for several months.

His mother, 60-year-old Dinh Thi Loi, said she's suffering from a liver tumor and hopes her son will return safely.

"I have a serious disease and can't eat or sleep well these days," she told Thanh Nien. "I don't know when I will die. Please find him soon so that I can see him again."

In a neighboring house, Dinh Thi Sanh, 51, is also worried about his 17-year-old son, Dinh Van Le, who left eight months ago for work.

She has had no information about him since.

Another resident, Dinh Thi Phuong said she hasn't heard from her husband, 36-year-old Dinh Van Thanh, since he left. "I am really worried about my husband after learning about what happened to Diet," she said.

Phuong said a man offered her husband a job as a coffee picker for VND2 million (US$103) a month but she was unsure that he is actually working the job.

"He went away when I was six months pregnant. Our child is six months old now but he has not returned," she said.

Diet's case is not the first instance of rural migrant workers fleeing from forced labor in the Phuoc Son gold mines.

Early this year, Dinh Van Thoi, 17, of Tra Bong District's Tra Son Commune was also lured into a Phuoc Son mine.

He escaped, like Diet, only to find himself in the wilds of the surrounding forest.

The emaciated child weighed around 30 kg when he was found by local residents in Hiep Duc District, last month.

Duong Tan Hoang, head of the Tan Hiep Commune, said many locals have been lured to work outside the community by people who promised them high salaries. Those that took up the offers found themselves toiling at hard labor for low pay.

Some had to sell their belongings in order to afford a bus ticket home.

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