JOHANNESBURG (AP) – An underground fire in an abandoned shaft has apparently killed 36 illegal miners, South Africa’s Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited said Monday.

In a statement, the company said the bodies were brought to the surface by other illegal miners over the weekend.

Harmony said it was unclear if other illegal miners had died at the Eland shaft in central South Africa. It said it would not send its own workers in to search because “the abandoned mining areas where the criminal miners have been active are extremely dangerous.”

Mining minister Susan Shabangu expressed her condolences in a statement Monday.

While the government did not condone illegal mining, “these are human lives that have been lost; children have been orphaned and women have been widowed,” she said. “I would therefore like to extend sympathies to the families of the bereaved.”

The South African Press Association said Shabangu was expected to visit the mine Wednesday.

Harmony said it was working with police and prosecutors to crack down on illegal mining, adding that 294 illegal miners caught in the last two weeks at Eland would be prosecuted.

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