China enlists local officials to cut mining deaths

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BEIJING, Nov 13 (Reuters) China will insist local governments take more responsibility for mine safety, industry officials said today, in an effort to cut a death rate among miners which is running at more than 10 a day.

New regulations will force local authorities to clean up unsafe mines before accidents happen, said Meng Bincheng, deputy director-general of the mine rescue command centre at the State Administration of Work Safety.

China has forced many small mines to close over the last two years, helping to reduce the death toll from coal mining to 3,069 in the first ten months of this year compared with 4,746, or an average of 13 a day, during the whole of 2006.

''The death toll will be better this year than last but it still takes a long time to get it down,'' Meng told Reuters, adding he hoped local governments would do a better job of policing areas the central government can't reach.

Vice Minister of Land and Resources Wang Min called for a ''green mining industry,'' that also actively develops local economies, hires local people and preserves local culture, in a speech to an annual mining conference today.

The shift in emphasis away from simply maximizing production is in line with central government calls for both ''scientific development'' -- or efficiently developing the economy while wasting less energy and resources -- and a ''harmonious society'' in which poor and rural Chinese don't feel they are being trampled under in a nationwide rush for riches.

China is undergoing a mining review, with the goal of closing small, unlicensed mines and consolidating resources in the hands of larger companies capable of developing mines in a more sustainable, but more expensive way.

But high prices for coal, minerals and metals means there is a wide gap between Beijing's policies and local practices, the officials acknowledged.

''China is so big, and it's easy for little mines to open at the back of a mountain, or start up one day, move somewhere else the next,'' Meng said.

REUTERS SKB RN1426

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