Seventy alleged gang members and 20 employees of a tin mine company have been arrested a day after it was revealed that there was collusion between gangsters and local officials to cover up a mine accident in which at least 81 workers were killed.
The Public Security Bureau in Hechi district, where the Nandan, Guangxi, tin mine is located, had so far smashed nine gangs, arresting more than 70 gangsters and confiscating as many as 200 guns.
About 10 criminals were at large and a massive manhunt had been launched.
Investigators also have detained 20 senior staff of the Longquan mining company that ran the mine.
The arrests followed an investigation carried out by a taskforce from the central Government, led by the State Economic and Trade Commission Minister, Li Rongrong, who on Wednesday admitted that organised criminal gangs colluded with local officials to cover up an accident on July 17 that killed at least 81 workers.
The central Government on Tuesday sent Zhang Baoming, chief of the State Industrial Safety Supervision Administration, to Nandan to help investigate the accident cover-up.
Mr Zhang, who arrived in Nandan late on Wednesday, was quoted by Xinhua as having given instructions to investigators.
Apart from stepping up rescue and compensation efforts, the central leadership has also demanded that local officials organise measures to restore order within the mining industry in that area, Xinhua said. The Yangcheng Evening News and other reports have revealed that criminals were heavily involved in the Guangxi tin mine industry.
The tin mine industry accounts for 70 per cent of local government revenue and Longquan company owner Li Dongming, who is under arrest, is said to have personal wealth of about one billion yuan (US$120 million).
Blind profit-hunting hurts people's safety
At least 81 people are confirmed dead in the flooding disaster in mines in Nandan County of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
The tragedy shocked people around the country, not only because of the heavy toll of human lives but also the serious disorder in the management of local mines.
In fact, it is not the first accident that occurred in Nandan. Just several months ago, a similar accident killed 28 people and wounded 56. Last year alone, 85 people died and 336 were wounded in 711 mining accidents in Nandan.
As an old Chinese saying goes "It takes more than one cold day for the river to freeze three inches deep."
In fact, hidden dangers have existed for quite a long time in Nandan mines. The lack of an efficient management fails to root them out.
Mining industry has long been the backbone for local revenue.
Since the 1980s, the country began a transition from the planned economy to a market one, and the government gradually broke its monopoly in mineral exploration.
Overnight, mining enterprises with private and collective ownerships mushroomed, co-existing with State ones. Furthermore, many illegal enterprises, which never registered with local government and had not acquired permission to mine, also started production.
This complicates management. Blinded by profit-hunting, some small enterprises pay little attention to safety in miners' working conditions.
Destructive exploration is common. After exploration is finished in a mining well, for example, these holes should be filled with materials. But illegal and some private enterprises seldom do this.
According to a local enterprise manager, such big holes exist everywhere in the mining area. Once they collapse, lives lost number far more than several dozens.
The chaos in the Nandan mines has caught the attention of governments at higher levels, and several campaigns have been launched to establish order. But things improved for only a few days. After the inspection team comprised of higher-level officials left, everything stayed the same.
This time, the central and Guangxi provincial governments have attached great importance to the incident and have made up their minds to establish order in the mines.
It is sincerely hoped that no more tragedies will be reported from Nandan.
(People's Daily 08/11/2001)