Mon, May 29, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Heads rolling over Chinese mine disaster

HEAVYWEIGHT INVOLVEMENT Li Yizhong, China's top work safety official, has taken up the cause of tracking down negligent personnel in the Xinjing mine flooding

AFP , BEIJING

Four more officials and managers have been arrested over a northern China coal mine flooding, which has left 56 miners trapped and feared dead after 10 days, officials said yesterday. A total of 19 officials have now been detained over the accident with the country's top safety official warning of harsh punishment over the tragedy which mine owners initially covered up.

China's Cabinet has set up a team to investigate the cover up and the cause of the flooding on May 18 at the Xinjing mine in Shanxi Province, the State Administration of Work Safety said yesterday.

Those arrested include the director and deputy director of Zuoyun County where the mine is located, the administration's director Li Yizhong (李毅中) said in a speech posted on its Web site.

State media have said the mine was operating illegally, overproducing by 10 times its authorized limit and subcontracting out work -- leading to safety problems. Mine owners, who fled after the accident, initially reported only four miners missing and had paid relatives of affected workers to keep silent.

"The reason these managers tried to cover up the accident is because of a protection umbrella," Li said on the state-run China Central Television station, referring to government officials who turn a blind eye to illegal mining.

"We must severely punish them and use the law to deal with them," Li said at a government meeting on Saturday about the accident.

Those detained also include two key mine officials who had fled, the town's Communist Party secretary, township chief, and head of the local legislature, Li said. The county director and a deputy county director, who was in charge of overseeing coal mining in the area, were also removed from their official posts in the party, the People's Daily Web site said.

Also detained were a labor contractor and three water detection workers at the mine, and two bank officials who were suspected of involvement in the accident, the official Xinhua news agency said.

An initial investigation found the flooding occurred when workers accidentally dug into an adjacent, disused, water-filled shaft, causing their shaft to flood with 200,000m2 of water, Xinhua cited the administration as saying.

Only about 50,000m2 have been pumped out, Xinhua said. Rescuers were still pumping, but officials said the chance of finding any of trapped miner alive was slim. Some 266 miners were confirmed to have been working underground at the time and 210 managed to escape.

The accident has made headlines in China because it has highlighted the appalling state of the nation's coal mining industry.

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