Official blasted over bid to stop disaster reports

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2001, 12:00am

Guangxi Government Vice-Chairman Wang Hanmin was under fire yesterday for barring state media from reporting the investigation into a tin mine disaster on July 16 in which at least 70 miners were killed.

Said to have been threatened by knife-wielding thugs, stripped of their film and excluded from official briefings, journalists have battled guards and officialdom to report on the flooded mine.

The official Web site of the People's Daily yesterday published an article blasting the unnamed Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Vice-Chairman for disregarding journalists' right to report on a Sunday hearing into the accident. Other reports claim that up to 200 miners may be missing.

'Who gave you the power to infringe the rights of the People's Daily, - a party central publication - to report?' the Web site said of an incident on Saturday in which People's Daily reporters were ordered from a hearing in Nandan. The report said Wang Hanmin, head of a provincial-level taskforce, had behaved rudely to the People's Daily Web site reporters.

Mr Wang's aides also confiscated film taken by People's Daily photographers after the media officially confirmed the news last Friday, the Web site said.

'People know this is because the People's Daily's Web site reported the Nandan incident early on,' the Web site said.

The row erupted as Li Rongrong, Minister of the State Economic and Trade Commission and a protege of Premier Zhu Rongji, showed his support for media coverage of the disaster.

Mr Li said he was grateful for the contribution of media in providing supervision over the actions of the community and he added that those who had tried to cover up the disaster would be held responsible.

Mine owner Li Dongming was detained on Saturday.

Guangxi officials repeatedly denied knowledge of the disaster after news of it emerged last week. China Daily said local cadres were deliberately protecting the mine boss for economic reasons.

Meanwhile, the Web site said yesterday the central Government's taskforce was trying to find out the exact death toll.

Mr Li has ordered rescuers to work round the clock to pump out water from the flooded mine, even up to 20 days after the accident.

The Beijing Morning Post claimed yesterday that the miners' July roll-call list has been missing since the accident, suggesting efforts by some person or people to withhold evidence.