A local government in Shaanxi has taken the extreme step of blowing up illegal coalmines in an effort to reduce the number of accidents in illicit operations. The Weinan municipal government recently issued a notice ordering all mine operators to close unlicensed mines immediately. 'Illegal mines that are found to be still in operation will be blown up on the spot,' the government said in a statement published on its website. Officials said they were taking the extreme measures because they had found that many dangerous mines were still operating, despite warnings, and some had even continued operating in the wake of fatal accidents. Since the beginning of the month, three mines had been blown up, officials said. They included one in Hancheng county where four miners had died in an accident on July 1. The statement urged county governments to be strict when implementing the rule and to show no tolerance for operators of illegal mines or operators who were found guilty of over-production. The area has a history of mine tragedies, notably an explosion in 2001 in Hancheng county that left 46 miners dead. Despite frequent safety checks, many mines in the region were reopened as soon as the safety officials had left the area, said an industry source. 'The illegal mines are allowed to operate because of the solid relationship between the owners of the mines and local officials,' the source said. At a national level, the central authorities have drawn up a set of rules on mine safety that will take effect on August 15. Mines can be closed and the owners fined up to 150,000 yuan (HK$141,000) if they are found guilty under the new regulations. But under the national criminal law, mine owners can be imprisoned or even sentenced to death if a court rules their negligence led to a death. Despite the heavy penalties and campaigns to improve the levels of safety, illegal mines flourish due largely to the high demand for coal to feed the country's electricity generators. More than 6,300 people died in mining accidents last year. China's mines are considered among the world's most dangerous. The National Coal Safety Regulatory bureau estimates that the annual death toll in mainland mines, relative to tonnes of coal produced, is 10 times higher than the global average.