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New figures cast doubt on mine closures
By Fu Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-01-16 05:29

China's attempts to shut down illegal and unsafe coal mines have met with mixed success, the nation's safety watchdog has revealed.

Only around 40 per cent of the pits on the government's 2005 closure list had stopped mining by the end of last year, according to a document released by the National Development and Reform Commission (NRDC).

In the document, labelled "especially urgent," the commission called on local governments to strengthen their efforts in the "closure campaign," and suggested punishing local officials who failed to perform their duties.

The country had planned to shut down 5,001 unsafe coal mines last year, but only 2,157 had been closed, said the commission, China's highest economic planner.

The numbers, however, conflicted with those announced by the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) several days ago.

SAWS Vice-Minister Zhao Tiechui said 5,290 coal mines had been closed down, and the government's 2005 goal of shutting down 4,000 had been met.

Announcing that 21 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions had completed the "demanding task" in 2005, Zhao praised most provincial governments for their increased closure efforts.

But in the document available on the NRDC website, the commission criticized a majority of provincial governments for their tardy reaction to the central government's decision and said only a small fraction of provincial governments had met last year's goal.

East China's Fujian Province was singled out for not shutting down a single coal mine last year. The province had planned to close 30 mines in 2005.

SAWS had praised Central China's Henan Province for shutting down more than 800 mines last year. However, the NRDC found that only 155 inferior coal mines in the province have been closed.

North China's Shanxi Province, which accounts for nearly one-third of China's coal output, planned to close 1,200 pits, but only 276 had been shut down by the end of last month.

Industry insiders blamed local governments' unwillingness as some governmental officials still back the mines.

In order to curb rising coal mine accidents in China, the central government implemented a package of measures last year to improve work safety.

Measures include preventing governmental officials from investing in mining and shutting down coal mines that don't meet national safety standards.

China has vowed to restructure the coal industry by establishing large coal groups with better safety equipment, instead of scattered small shafts with poor safety standards.

The administration said earlier that China would shut down more than 12,000 inferior mines within three years.

A total of 5,986 miners were killed in 3,341 accidents in the past 12 months, Li Yizhong, minister of SAWS said at a national meeting recently.

"The number is less than that of 2004, but major fatal accidents have aroused considerable public discontent," said Li.

There were four accidents which killed more than 100 miners last year, meaning the total number of such large fatal accidents since 1949 reached 22.

(China Daily 01/16/2006 page2)

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