updated 1/5/2006 11:02:39 AM ET 2006-01-05T16:02:39

China is closing 5,290 coal mines in a safety crackdown on the world’s deadliest mining industry, the government announced Thursday.

The figure is higher than a previously reported estimate of 4,000 mines that would be closed after safety inspections in 2005, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It cited figures released at a conference held by the State Administration of Work Safety.

The government has launched a series of safety campaigns in recent years in an attempt to rein in accidents that kill more than 5,000 Chinese coal miners annually. But death tolls are largely unchanged.

Fires, explosions and other disasters often are blamed on managers who ignore safety rules, sometimes with official collusion, or fail to install required ventilation and other equipment.

Officials said more than 12,000 mines would be inspected in the latest crackdown.

China has about 34,000 coal mines, 24,000 of which are small mines producing 10,000 to 30,000 tons of coal a year.

Xinhua did not give any details on the mines to be closed. But the government says small, unlicensed village mines account for the bulk of China’s fatalities.

The report gave no indication of how the government would enforce the closure of the mines, amid widespread reports that operations closed by safety inspectors often reopen illegally soon afterward.

The government said last month it dismissed two deputy provincial governors and was prosecuting 96 officials accused of negligence or colluding with mine managers in six high-profile accidents. Those disasters killed 528 people during the previous 13 months.

In November, at least 169 miners were killed when coal dust caught fire at the Dongfeng Coal Mine in the northeastern city of Qitaihe.

In February, 214 miners died in an explosion in the Sunjiawan Coal Mine, also in the northeast — China’s deadliest reported mine accident since the 1949 communist revolution.

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