China Touts Mining Overhaul in Restive Inner Mongolia

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 10:05 am (UTC-5)
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China says authorities have begun an overhaul of the coal mining industry in its vast Inner Mongolia region, in the wake of protests against environmental damage from coal mining, and the hit-and-run death of a local shepherd by a coal truck driver.

The official Xinhua news agency described the reforms, announced Wednesday, as a one-month campaign aimed at “ensuring the healthy, orderly, harmonious and green development of the coal industry.” The report said the crackdown includes orders to strengthen mining safety practices and directs authorities to pay increased attention to the environmental concerns of local residents.

The northern Chinese region has seen a spate of demonstrations in the past month triggered by the death of the herder by an ethnic Han driver and the killing of a local protester who was participating in demonstrations against air and water pollution from a local coal mine.

Ethnic Mongolians, who number less than 20 percent of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region's population, have long complained of being marginalized by China's dominant ethnic Han group, whose members have flocked to the region to mine its vast coal reserves.

On May 10, herders angry at coal truckers for driving over their grazing lands, blocked a road in the region. One protester was struck and killed by a truck in the confrontation, and two suspects were taken into custody.

In the second case days later, residents tried to stop operations at a coal mine to protest air and water pollution linked to the mining operation. State media said the fatality occurred when a mine worker drove a forklift into a protester's car.

China moved quickly to tighten security in the region, sealing off restive college campuses and residential sectors near protest areas, Despite those moves, the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center said hundreds of protesters marched Tuesday in the regional capital, Hohhot. Photographs posted on the center's Web site showed riot police in place around the campus of Inner Mongolia Normal University. There were no reports of violence.