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4,000 unsafe coal mines to be closed
By Jiang Zhuqing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-11-15 06:13

At least 4,000 unsafe coal mines will be shut down by the end of the year in an ongoing campaign to sever links between government officials and colliery owners.

Safety watchdogs halted production at 12,148 coal mines in the first 10 months of the year to enforce safety regulations. Of the mines they inspected, 70 per cent failed, said Zhao Tiechui, head of the Sate Administration of Coal Mine Safety.

"The curbing of accidents and shutting down of unlicensed collieries are two tough jobs before the work safety departments right now," said Zhao, during a visit to Northwest China's Chongqing Municipality.

All the collieries that have not so far applied for certificates for safe production should suspend production, he said. Those that fail post-renovation inspections will be closed by the end of the year.

In Chongqing, 314 officials have registered interests totalling 62.7 million yuan (US$7.7 million) in coal mines. Of these interests 35.8 million yuan (US$4.4 million) has been withdrawn, said Xie Xiaojun, vice-major of the city.

In China, poor work safety, collusion between officials and colliery owners, over-exploitation of resources and severe pollution have been dubbed the "four tumours" of the coal industry.

Corruption and collaboration between officials and coal mine owners, is the root cause of coal mine accidents in the nation, said Li Yizhong, minister of the State Administration of Work Safety.

More than 90 per cent of the officials who give protection to illegal coal mines are public servants at county- or township-level, said Cao Jianlin, an official in charge of breaking collaboration between officials and colliery owners in North China's coal-rich Shanxi Province.

"They (the officials) are the forces that determine the life and death of the coal mines," said Cao. "The trading of power and money has made it difficult for watchdogs to tackle collaboration."

There are 4,600 or so registered coal mines in Shanxi Province, said Cao, adding that there were also more than 4,000 illegal mines.

Shi Xueai, vice-Party secretary of Shanxi's Linfen city, said more than 100 officials have been punished for collaborating with coal mine owners.

"But the situation remains serious," said Shi.

According to at least one private colliery owner, Zhang Guoming, Chinese law encourages mine owners not to invest in safety equipment.

Under the current legislation, mining resources belong to the State, while owners of private mines only enjoy the right of exploitation.

"Exploitation rights for private mine owners are usually only granted for less than 10 years, and sometimes no longer than five years," said Zhang.

"Mine owners have such a short period of time in which to turn a profit, they will not waste those profits to make the mine safe,"

(China Daily 11/15/2005 page3)

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