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Chinese Province Closes Mines for Safety Upgrade - 2002-07-10

China, which is trying to tackle its grim record in mine accidents, has ordered all small mines in a northeastern province were ordered closed for safety tests.

Heilongjiang province authorities issued a statement Wednesday saying all mines will stay closed until they meet "stringent" safety standards.

The provincial government says local officials will be held responsible for accidents and delays in reporting them.

On Monday, a gas explosion in a mine in Hegang city in Heilongjiang province claimed 44 lives. On June 20, 115 people died in a mine accident, also in Heilongjiang province. At a recent conference on mine safety, Li Tiechui, an official with the National Work Safety Administration, discussed the causes of the June 20 accident.

Mr. Li says the accident was due to negligence and explains that a power cut led to the gas explosion. He also says the safety administration of the mine was faulty.

China has one of the world's worst records for mine safety. More than 3,400 people have died in Chinese mining accidents this year. Government figures show that last year, more than 5,500 people died. However, experts think many accidents and deaths go unreported.

Government officials say small, independently-owned mines have the worst safety records. Many lack the money to install even minimal safety equipment.

In recent months, the government has imposed stricter rules on mine operators and ordered more mine inspections to fight the problem.