09/26/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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2,900 die in Chinese mines over 8 months

Although the extent of disasters is less this year, the situation remains serious despite government commitment. Official sources pointed to "collusion" between government officials and coal mine owners as being one of the causes.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In the first eight months of 2006, 2,900 people died in accidents in Chinese coal mines caused by flooding and explosions. This was communicated on 22 September by the State Administration of Work Safety, which said there were 26% fewer deaths than the same period last year. In all, there were reports of 1,824 accidents, 14% less than 2005. For years, the country has ranked first worldwide in fatal mine accidents, a consequence of the thirst for energy that leads to the operation of unsafe mines.

Despite the reported decline in accidents – based only on official estimates – Wu Yin, responsible for coal mine accident prevention, said the risk to workers remained "high". In view of the negative record of 2005, Beijing committed itself to ensuring maximum occupational safety and to closing all illegal mines, held to be responsible for most accidents.

Wu said that throughout 2006, the state will invest 3 billion yuan [375 million US dollars] in improving coal mine safety, especially to upgrade underground ventilation systems at major state-owned coal mines.

But the prevalent thirst for energy and quest for enormous gains mean that many mines remain open although they are very unsafe. Also on 22 September, China's Ministry of Supervision reported that 315 government officials and heads of state-owned enterprises have been disciplined for owning shares in coal mines.  Beijing has banned this practice, which ever more frequently leads officials to give their blessing to enterprises that put workers at risk. Wang Shuhe, vice director of the State Administration on Coal Mine Safety, said the collusion between government officials and coal mind owners was an enduring cause of deficient occupational safety.  The official said: "Only when we solve the problem of officials working as protective umbrellas for enterprises can we find a permanent way to prevent coal mine accidents." Beijing has long accused local officials of neglecting safety but has not managed to resolve the problem.

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