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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Criminals blamed for China mine deaths
Recent but undated photo of mining manager Li Dongming being questioned by police
Police question the mines' owner
The Chinese Government minister investigating a tin mine disaster in which hundreds are believed to have died has said organised crime gangs were involved.

We will certainly get to the bottom of it

Li Rongrong
State Economic and Trade Commission Minister, Li Rongrong, said the gangs were implicated in causing the accident in the southern province of Guangxi last month and in covering up the truth, according to the Chinese Xinhua news agency.

Fifteen people, including the mine owner, have been arrested, and five local officials have been sacked or suspended.

Official figures say 81 miners are missing but state media reports said at least 400 were underground when the mine flooded.

State media reports have described how mine owners in the region use private armies equipped with guns to run the unregulated mines and bribe corrupt local officials to cover up accidents.

Mining accidents claim as many as 10,000 lives 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.

Denials, bribes and threats

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

Recent but undated photo of the flooded exit of the Lajiapo mine
It is not known how many were underground when the mines flooded
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.

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.

Trade Commission Minister Li confirmed his investigations had revealed a cover-up. "We will certainly investigate how many died, and will just as certainly get to the bottom of it," he said.

Flood of water

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

Rescuers at china coalmine
China has the world's worst record for industrial accidents
Hundreds of men are thought to have been trapped but mine bosses said they had lost the staff rotas so did not know the exact number underground at the time.

State media say 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).

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

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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