07/14/2005, 00.00
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Owners hide bodies and run after mine explosion

Yangfangkou (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Owners of a coal mine that had an explosion on July 2 hid the bodies of at least 19 miners to make it look as if the accident was less serious, the State Administration for Work Safety reported.

Teams of rescuers found 19 bodies in the Jiajiapu mine, in Shanxi province's Yangfangkou Township, but they could not determine the exact number of miners who had died.

As a result of their preliminary investigation, authorities found that the bodies of ten miners had been taken to a crematorium in Ulanchabu, a city in the neighbouring province of Inner Mongolia. Seven more bodies were found in another town in Inner Mongolia.

They also reported that the blast injured 11 others.

In the meantime, the mine owners fled the city after the explosion.

China's economic boom has put a premium on energy and pushed demand through the roof, pushing mine owners to dig deeper into the ground and imposing inhuman working conditions on mineworkers. This increases the likelihood of underground gas explosions.

Coal covers 61 per cent of China's energy needs, but is not enough. The country's energy thirst is pushing entrepreneurs and the government to reactivate once abandoned mines without applying proper safety measures. For some miners, this has meant 14-hour workdays to extract a tonne of coal each.

Most recent incidents have occurred in small mines under private or local government management—such enterprises provide 28 per cent of the national output.

Li Yizhong, director of the State Administration for Work Safety, said that that closing some of these mines will not change overall production.

China's Penal Code punishes serious safety violations with sentences ranging from three to seven years. 

The Work Safety Law also sets fines of up to 200,000 yuan (€ 18,700 or US$ 23,000) for violators. 

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