- The Washington Times - Friday, November 23, 2001

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING China on Tuesday acknowledged it faced difficulties trying to shut down small mines with poor safety standards, but said that despite the challenges, it had managed to reduce the number of mining deaths.

The 5,300 mining deaths reported last year and 4,500 deaths in the first 10 months of this year were far less than the figure of around 10,000 recorded in previous years, said Huang Yi, a spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety.

But Mr. Huang told reporters many mining accidents in China happened in mines that had already been ordered to close by the central government.

"There exist a lot of difficulties and problems in implementing the government's policies to shut down small coal mines," he said.

On Monday the government ordered all small coal mines in north China's Shanxi province to halt production for safety checks after a series of gas explosions left 72 miners dead or trapped.

All the mines involved had been previously ordered to close, state media said.

China, one of the biggest coal producers in the world, has a poor safety record compared with other countries, Mr. Huang conceded.

The country has many small mines, and the majority of them do not meet safety standards, he said, calling some of them "gas pits."

"Infrastructure building of small mines is quite weak, and safety conditions are not good," Mr. Huang said. "Our work force often is not well-informed about safety requirements. More often than not, they are not aware of how to take safety measures."

In July China's Cabinet, the State Council, ordered all existing local township mines to be shut down for inspection following a spate of mine explosions, floods and other accidents that caused many deaths.

The government shut down 11,882 small coal mines in the first 10 months of the year to improve safety, state media reported.

However, previous clampdowns appear to have achieved little, with many mines reopened either in secret or with the knowledge of local officials who accept bribes.

Official casualty rates are very difficult to verify, and independent specialists say the number of mining deaths each year is still around 10,000.

Despite the dangers, people desperate for jobs are attracted to the work by wages often well above what they could otherwise earn.

Mr. Huang said the number of mining deaths was falling, with the figure for the first 10 months of this year 7.2 percent lower than the like period in 2000.


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