The Vice Minister of China's State Administration of Work Safety said the government will strike hard at any illegal investment in coal mines by government officials.

On Sunday Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, a geologist by profession, vowed, We will conduct in-depth investigations into cases of dereliction of duty and corruption related to work safety and severely punish those responsible.

Illegal investment by government officials in coal mines has been blamed for the regulators' disregard of illegal or unsafe coals mines, according to China Daily. Last year, 5,938 Chinese coal miners died, accounting for nearly 80% of the world's total coal-mining fatalities.

China Daily reported that last year the Chinese government forced 4,878 officials and executives of state-owned enterprises to withdraw US$69 million in coal mining investment.

Zhao Teichui, Vice-Minister of the State Administration of Work Safety encouraged the public to report on corrupt practices and help identify the officials who have invested in coal mines.

Zhao said that his administration will increase efforts to close down unsafe coal mines. It was reported that 5,423 illegal and unsafe coal mines had been closed down by the end of 2007. Despite the initial progress, it cannot be ruled out that some unsafe coal mines are still in operation, and we will continue to strengthen our supervision and inspection, he said.

The Vice-Minister estimated he spends at least half of his schedule investigating coal mine accidents.

Premier Wen said the central government will allocate US$371 million in treasury bonds to control coal mine gases, which are considered a major cause of coal mine explosions.


Meanwhile, Chinese officials have not given up hope that 24 miners trapped underground by the May 12th earthquake are still alive. Wang Dexue, deputy head of the State Administration of Work Safety, said it was possible that 24 miners had survived the quake.

At a news conference, Wang said, In past rescue efforts, we have had miracles and one miner was plucked out alive after 21 days. So this time, we are working as though they are alive.

We are racing against time to reach the trapped miners and will never give up until the last moment, he declared.

The agency reported that the earthquake impacted 294 coal mines in Sichuan Province. It killed 176 miners, with another 204 missing and 24 trapped underground in three mines in Pengzhou, Anaxian and Shifang.