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1 in 5 Coal Mines Ordered Shut

In the face of this year's rising death toll, the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety yesterday and today ordered over one-fifth of China's coal mines to suspend production and undergo safety overhauls by the end of this year because they are unsafe.

"The number is not all of the mines on the suspension list; the total will reach 7,000 soon," the administration's press officer, named An, told China Daily.

Industry insiders said the suspension will leave a huge number of miners jobless, but coal supply will only be slightly affected because most of the pits involved are small.

The mine safety administration published the first two batches of 6,133 mines that are required to stop production and meet national safety standards. If they do not, they will be shut down permanently.

Last Friday, the State Council General Office set the end of 2005 as the national deadline for suspension and safety overhaul for all unqualified coal mines. The deadline had previously varied from province to province.

According to the mine safety administration, there are 25,927 coal mines in China, supplying 70 percent of the country's annual energy demand. However, because of the transient nature of mining employment, no official figures on the number of miners were available.

An said responsibility to monitor suspensions and supervise safety improvements will fall on local governments. "The central government will soon unveil regulations requiring provincial and local governments to play a key role in safeguarding coal mine safety," she said. "Otherwise, they will be severely punished."

An said a new central government system for monitoring coal mines will be announced today, which includes detailed measures to prevent coal mine disasters.

Some local governments and officials have been found after investigations to have protected poorly equipped coal mines, where accidents have claimed an average of 18 lives a day in the first six months of this year.

On August 22, central government instructed all local government officials and leaders of State-owned enterprises to withdraw shares in collieries before September 22.

"The central government's decision to get tough on collusion will make safety supervisors' work easier," said Li Wenge, safety director of Shaanxi's Provincial Coal Industry Group.

He said the suspensions will affect many miners. "Those in private and small mines will lose their jobs and their families will become poorer."

Li said he expected the average incomes of workers in State-owned mines to drop because they will have to give a portion of their incomes to miners laid off by the suspensions, but there was no further information reported on details relating to this.

"I'm sure the coal supply will not be affected because many State-owned big mines have increased production capacities since last year," Li said.

(China Daily August 31, 2005)

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