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Tuesday, 7 August, 2001, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
China detains 15 over mine disaster
Recent but undated photo of mining manager Li Dongming being questioned by police
Police question the mines' owner
Fifteen people have been arrested in southern China over a mining disaster that is known to have killed at least 70 people and could have claimed up to 300 lives.

Those detained are accused of responsibility for the flooding of two tin mines in Guangxi province on 17 July and of trying to cover up the accident, Chinese state media said.

The Chinese authorities at first rejected reports of a disaster, but last week, after repeated denials, the government launched an official inquiry.

Mining accidents claim as many as 10,000 lives a year in China each year, but the scale of this latest accident and the alleged cover-up prompted calls for government action by the Chinese media.

Among those reported detained are the mine owner, Li Dongming, several of his bodyguards, and others suspected of having links to organised crime, a reporter for the People's Daily in Guangxi told the Reuters news agency.

Bribes and threats

Li Dongming and mine managers are alleged to have threatened reporters and bribed the relatives of those who died to try to keep them quiet.

The accident happened when miners drilled into an unused shaft, unleashing a flood of water.

Recent but undated photo of the flooded exit of the Lajiapo mine
It is not known how many were underground when the mines flooded
Mine bosses admitted that about 70 workers were underground at the time, but said they had lost the staff rotas so did not know the exact number.

State media say as many as 300 miners may have been trapped, but there is no hope of finding survivors because the mines are still flooded with water at temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

Government minister Li Rongrong was last week sent to the area to investigate.

"We should spend every second on pumping out the water to rescue the workers and try our best to get the final death toll as soon as possible", the China Daily newspaper quoted him as saying.

Safety standards

The Chinese authorities are encouraging friends and families of the victims to come forward to help determine a final figure.

Rescuers at china coalmine
China has the world's worst record for industrial accidents
Huang Yi, spokesman for China's bureau of industrial safety, told the Associated Press news agency that the area's mining industry would be examined and illegal mines shut.

"We don't rule out that they covered up smaller accidents in the past," he said.

The government in Beijing has made repeated promises to improve safety standards at Chinese mines.

But many mines are completely unregulated and accidents often covered up by local authorities who are dependent on the tax revenues paid by mining concerns.

See also:

04 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
China confirms mine disaster
30 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Hundreds feared dead in China mine
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
28 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's deadly mining industry
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