12/07/2007, 00.00
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Death toll from the Rui Zhiyuan mine disaster in Shanxi reaches 105

Chinese police arrest two mine officials on charges of trying to cover up the accident, wasting precious time that could have been used to rescue trapped miners. Other accidents are reported in Hebei and Xinjiang.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese police arrested this morning two managers of the Rui Zhiyuan coal mine near the city of Linfen, Shanxi province (central China), destroyed by an explosion that has reportedly claimed 105 lives. The two are charged with trying to cover up the accident. News reports say they delayed reporting the accident, wasting precious time that could have been used to rescue the trapped miners.

So far some 15 miners are known to have been saved or to have escaped. Most of the other are thought to be dead from poisonous gas which followed the initial blast.

The official Xinhua news agency reports that at the time of the blast 120 people were in the mine.

The State Work Safety Administration said Thursday the mine was properly licensed, was owned by the local government and had an annual output capacity of 210,000 tons of coal.

In addition to detaining the mine's managers, police have also frozen its bank accounts.

Meanwhile, on Monday 11 people were trapped after a roof collapsed in an iron- and gold-ore mine in Chengde in Hebei province, in northern China.

In separate incident 12 people died of gas poisoning in the Xinjiang region in north-western China.

China's mines are the most dangerous in the world. In order to meet the country’s growing energy needs, 70 per cent of which are based on coal, mine owners push mining to its limits disregarding safety rules.

In early November the government released data on mining deaths. In the first ten months of the year 3,069 people were killed, 19 per cent less than last year. But for many these figures are not credible because many deaths go unreported to avoid mine closure as required by law. According to independent sources, the real number of deaths is around 20,000 a year.

In the last two years the government has approved new safety regulations, but enforcement remains lax and most of those responsible for accidents get away.

Moreover 95 per cent of party officials involved in mining accidents who were brought to trial last year were eventually acquitted.

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