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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006, 06:23 GMT 07:23 UK
China moves to close unsafe mines
A miner being rescued from a fire in the city of Shahe in north China's Hebei Province in November 2004
China's growing economy has increased demand for coal
China says it will shut down all small coal mines by 2007 in an attempt to improve the industry's safety record.

China is the world's largest coal producer but its mines are amongst the most dangerous in the world.

More than 5,000 deaths are reported every year in fires, floods and explosions in Chinese mines.

Mines with a production capacity of less than 30,000 tons will close or merge with larger mines, where safety is said to be better.

But the BBC's Daniel Griffiths in Beijing says accidents still continue at the larger mines and safety precautions are often ignored when mine owners increase production to meet the country's surging energy demands.

'Reform failure'

The government has promised reform in the past, but local officials have shares in the highly profitable mines and previous clean-up campaigns have come to nothing, our correspondent says.

Feb 1950: Yiluo mine, Henan province - 174 dead
May 1960: Laobaidong mine, Shanxi province - 684 dead
Sept 2000: Muchonggou mine, Guizhou province - 162 dead
Nov 2004: Chenjiashan mine, Shaanxi province - 166 dead
Feb 2005: Sunjiawan mine, Liaoning province - 210 dead
Nov 2005: Dongfeng mine, Heilongjiang - 171 dead
The government says small mines produce 38% of the country's total coal output but are responsible for three-quarters of all deaths, Reuters news agency reports.

In the first three months of 2006, nine coal mine accidents caused the deaths of 161 workers, according to the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety.

The worst accident last year was an explosion at the Sunjiawan mine, in the north-eastern city of Fuxin, in February.

Two hundred and fourteen people were killed, making it China's deadliest mine disaster in 60 years.

Coal generates more than two-thirds of China's electricity and production has been stepped up to meet demand.

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