May 1, 2019 / 7:01 PM / 18 days ago

UPDATE 1-Mexico to recover bodies of miners killed in 2006 blast

(Adds details on Larrea, Lopez Obrador comment)

MEXICO CITY, May 1 (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged on Wednesday to recover the more than 60 remaining bodies of miners killed in a massive coal shaft explosion in 2006, a mission he described as a humanitarian promise made to victims’ families.

The announcement came on Mexico’s Labor Day holiday, and Lopez Obrador said he did not expect the company that operated the mine to oppose him.

“This is an act of justice and it’s a commitment we made going back a long time,” the president told reporters at his regular morning news conference.

He did not put a price tag on the mission, saying that “whatever is necessary” would be spent.

The Pasta de Conchos mine blast took place in northern Coahuila state.

The mine was operated by Grupo Mexico, one of Latin America’s largest miners. The company has maintained that the blast was an unfortunate accident and said it has compensated families, spending some $30 million on trying to find the 63 remaining miners.

Grupo Mexico did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shortly after the explosion, just two bodies were recovered.

A special prosecutor for the case blamed Grupo Mexico for allowing a deadly mix of methane, heat and oxygen to build up in the mine, failing to build proper ventilation shafts or to neutralize explosive coal dust. Government inspectors who failed to enforce the necessary safety precautions were also implicated.

Lopez Obrador said the recovery effort would begin soon, and that German Larrea, the head of Grupo Mexico and one of Mexico’s richest billionaires, had been sought out but that this was a government decision.

“If (Larrea) helps, that’s welcome. If he doesn’t help this is something we will do,” said Lopez Obrador.

In the moments following the blast, the workers were likely buried by thousands of tons of rock.

Investigators also said it was possible that many of the men were incinerated.

In the years since the incident, concerns have been raised about the danger to potential rescue workers in any further recovery efforts.

The leftist president and reclusive tycoon have a history of clashes.

About a month before Lopez Obrador’s landslide election victory last year, Larrea wrote an open letter warning of a “populist” risk that would imperil investment, but without referencing him by name.

Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Lizbeth Diaz; editing by Bill Berkrot and Diane Craft

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