Unstable soil gave way at an abandoned gold mine being worked illegally by wildcat miners, killing six miners and injuring two, officials said Tuesday.
The accident occurred as the men were using jackhammers to dig four tunnels, Mining Minister Jose Khan said on state television. He said the earth, which had been loosened by rains, gave way and buried the men.
Soldiers had ordered a group of about 40 illegal miners out of the site in southeastern Bolivar state, but a group of them worked on during Monday night, when the accident occurred, Khan said.
The group had no permission to work at the site, the closed Tomi mine near El Callao, Khan said.
The government has used troops in recent months to try to crack down on illegal mining operations, many of them for gold, in the forests of southern Venezuela.
President Hugo Chavez has called for an investigation, Khan said.
The Tomi mine used to be operated by Toronto-based Crystallex International Corp., which says on its website that it ceased mining at the site in 2008 while handing over the associated Revemin mill to a state-owned company, Minerven.
Chavez, whose government has nationalized businesses in industries such as steel and electricity, has also moved to assert greater control over the mining industry.