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Mine Cover-up: County Chiefs Sacked
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A county chief and his deputy have been stripped of their posts in the local Party committee for dereliction of duty in a suspected cover-up of a coal mine disaster in north China's Shanxi Province.

At least 56 miners have been trapped underground in a mine in Zuoyun County for 11 days.

The municipal Party committee of Datong, which governs the county, announced over the weekend that county chief Zhang Mingsheng and his deputy Shi Lu have been relieved of their Party positions.

They retain their government posts but informed sources at the rescue headquarters told China Daily that the county people's congress is considering dismissing them from the positions soon.

A researcher with the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) said more officials are likely to be removed from their posts and punished as the investigation into the cover-up deepens. The sackings reflect the determination of China's highest leadership to broaden accountability of officials, he added.

At least 266 miners were working underground when the mine was flooded on May 18; and 210 managed to escape. But it was initially reported that only five miners were killed.

The SAWS got involved in the investigation after media reports alleged a cover-up. Some mine managers had hired taxis to ferry family members of the trapped miners to neighboring Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to prevent them from rioting or speaking to the press, the miners said.

The State Council has set up an investigation team, headed by SAWS Director Li Yizhong, to deal with the accident. Provincial governor Yu Youjun and several deputy ministers of public security, supervision and work safety have also joined the investigation into the most serious coal mine accident this year.

The weekend announcement follows the detention of 19 mine executives and contractors last week.

Chang Rui, Party secretary of Zhangjiachang town where the mine is located in, and Liu Yongxin, the township government head, were suspended from their posts last week because they were suspected to have a hand in the cover-up.

Initial investigation shows the mine flooding was caused by water pouring in from a neighboring mine.

(China Daily May 29, 2006)

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