Chile mine: Rescued men attend service of thanks

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Miner Juan Carlos Aguilar returns to the San Jose amid a media scrum (17 Oct 2010)
Image caption,
The miners have appealed for their privacy to be respected

About a dozen of the 33 miners rescued after weeks underground in northern Chile returned to the mine to attend a thanksgiving ceremony.

Friends and relatives joined the miners for the service, held close to the entrance to the San Jose mine

The miners were mobbed by reporters on their arrival at the camp, despite their complaints about media intrusion.

Some 50 people, including other miners, protested that they had not been able to work since 5 August.

The service of thanksgiving on Sunday was jointly led by an evangelical pastor and a Roman Catholic priest. Some of the rescuers who helped bring the miners to the surface, on Wednesday, also attended.

Unwelcome attention

Many of the men were believers before the accident, says the BBC's Gideon Long at the San Jose mine, and several have said they feel closer to God as a result of their experience.

The service was private, with hordes of journalists waiting outside the tent where the ceremony took place.

Juan Illanes, one of the rescued miners, appealed to the media to respect the miners' privacy.

"We arrived at the conclusion that it would be very good if you, the media, instead of treating this as an entertainment story - as we have seen in some headlines, I'm talking about Johnny Barrios - please take into consideration his state of mind and respect his privacy," he said.

Johnny Barrios is the miner whose wife only found out he had a mistress of 10 years' standing when they both attended a vigil for him at the mine.

Some of the miners who were not trapped underground complained that they were not allowed in the tent at the San Jose mine for the service of thanksgiving.

About 50 people, including workers not on shift on 5 August when the mineshaft collapsed, took part in a protest. They have not been able to work since 5 August, when the mineshaft collapsed.

"We are not 33, we are 300," read one of their placards.

Jose Henriquez, an evangelical pastor who led the miners in prayer while they were underground, became the first of the 33 to return to the San Jose mine when he went back on Saturday.

He said he wanted to get to know the area, known as Camp Hope, where families waited for news of their relatives trapped in the mine.

"It is a joy to be free, I'm so happy to be back in this place so I can thank the Lord I'm with my family again," he said.

"I wanted to see this place and see where my family spent so long waiting for me."

Post-traumatic stress

Doctors say all the miners are in good health; only one, Victor Zamora, remains in hospital, suffering from dental problems.

Doctors will continue to monitor the 33 miners for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, said Dr Jorge Diaz, head of the miners' medical team at Copiapo regional hospital.

"We have a group of workers who are absolutely normal people, they weren't selected from a group of applicants to be astronauts, nor were they people who underwent rigorous tests, therefore we don't know when the post-traumatic stress syndrome can appear," Dr Diaz said.

On Saturday the miners began removing the sunglasses they had been wearing since they emerged into daylight on Wednesday.

They made an agreement to disclose few details of their ordeal while they negotiate book and film rights to their story.

A few of the miners say they intend to return to the same line of work.

"It is my work," Omar Reygadas told the Associated Press news agency. "It is my way of earning pesos. I am a mole, and I'm happy when I am underground."

"We are always going to carry on being miners," said Dario Segovia, speaking to the Spanish news agency, Efe. "It leaves us a little bit worried - this journalistic siege. For my part, I want them to leave us alone."