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Probe into Coal Mine Flooding Continues

At least 121 miners remain trapped in the Daxing Coal Mine in Xingning, Guangdong Province, after one more body was recovered yesterday morning, local officials confirmed.

Early on Wednesday last week, the first body, from a total of 123 trapped, was recovered.

With the recovery of the two bodies, experts said yesterday that the chance of finding any survivors was almost zero.

In spite of this, rescue operations were stepped up yesterday. Local officials said: "If there is still hope, no matter how slim, we will spare no efforts in rescuing the trapped miners."

The accident occurred at about 1:30 PM on August 7.

A number of local officials were reportedly found to have had close personal connections with the mine's owner during an investigation into the cause of the flooding, which is still ongoing.

Sources with the China Business Times said yesterday that Zeng Yungao, the owner of the mine, is believed to have handed out some 1.5 billion yuan (US$185 million) worth of shares as bribes to some local officials over the last few years.

However, the local government refused to comment on the report yesterday.

The report said that in 1997, Zeng bought himself a post in the local police force and was named as an outstanding entrepreneur in Meizhou, Guangdong Province.

Zeng fled after the incident and then tried to spend some 300 million yuan (US$36.9 million) in an alleged cover-up attempt.

Zeng later surrendered himself to authorities last Wednesday after the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection of the Communist Party of China joined in the investigations.

Local government said Monday that Zeng has since been put under house arrest.

Ten other people, including the mine's manager, board chairman and chief technician were caught attempting to flee after the accident.

Dozens of local officials have also been questioned, including one policeman who reportedly had 29 million yuan (US$3.6 million) in assets, despite earning only a few thousand yuan a month.

The report added that since becoming owner of the mine in 1999, Zeng earned about 200 million yuan (US$24.7 million) a year. He also allegedly used his influence to bribe local officials to own stakes in the mine.

Initial investigations showed that some local officials' personal relationships with Zeng suggested the possibility of the local government's tolerance of overproduction, mismanagement and safety-supervision lapses, which are believed to have led to the flooding, according to Li Zhilun, one of the chief investigators.

Chen Jianhui, director of Guangdong Provincial Administration of Work Safety, apologized for the accident on Monday at a national coal mine safety conference.

Chen said the accident revealed many lapses in the coal mine safety supervision work.

A violation of safety production rules has been cited as the main cause of the accident.

Chen urged all levels of work safety administrations in Guangdong to be fully aware of the complexity and severity of coal mine accidents, and strengthen procedures for the issuing of safe production permits.

(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency August 16, 2005)

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