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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Hundreds feared dead in China mine

Reports in several Chinese newspapers say up to 200 miners are feared dead after part of their pit was hit by a sudden flood.

The Chinese Government and mine officials on Monday both denied that any accident had taken place.

But the Shanghai Youth Daily alleged the authorities had already embarked on a cover up, including making payments to victims' families to stop them from talking about the incident.

Rescuers at china coalmine
About 100 miners died in a coalmine explosion last week
A BBC correspondent in Beijing says mining accidents are common in China - it has the worst record for industrial accidents in the world - and local officials often try to cover them up.

The Wuhan Morning Post and the Shanghai Youth Daily say the accident happened on 16 July in a remote moutainous area of Guangxi province in southern China.

Reports say miners digging for tin struck an abandoned well as they excavated a new shaft.

Water quickly filled the mine, blocking escape routes.

'Completely fabricated'

The newspapers said at least 70 bodies had been pulled from the flooded tin mine. More than 100 others trapped below the surface were now all assumed to be dead.

Several local people in the township of Chehe, where the mine is located, have also confirmed that an accident took place.

A local fire officer told the Associated Press news agency that a rescue operation was still going on.

The Shanghai Youth Daily newspaper said its reporter was at one point prevented from approaching the mine. It also said the mine owner had paid victims' families 20,000 yuan ($2,500) to keep quiet.

But the authorities have denied the reports. A spokeswoman for the central industrial safety bureau in Beijing said they were "completely fabricated".

Poor safety record

Last week, about 100 miners were killed after an explosion at an illegal coal mine in eastern China.

China's mining industry is the world's largest, but has a poor safety record, with an average of 7,000 deaths each year.

Last month, the government launched a crackdown on tens of thousands of illegal, privately-run mines and ordered all small, state-owned mines to close for safety checks.

Most miners come from poor rural areas with high unemployment, and are willing to jeopardise their lives to earn a living.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"Probably all of these men are now drowned"
See also:

14 Jan 00 | Africa
Trapped miners rescued
14 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese miners trapped underground
28 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's deadly mining industry
23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
China reviews pit safety
10 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese mine manager arrested
07 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
China mine blast death toll rises
28 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's record of neglect
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