Despite a recent series of high profile coalmining disasters the number of deaths in Chinese mines per million tons of coal produced stands at "the lowest rate in history", China's top work safety official said. Wang Xianzheng, director of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), said that in the first 11 months of 2004, 3,413 mining accidents had occurred in China, killing 5,286 miners. That, he said, was a decrease of 253 accidents and 451 deaths on the same period in 2003 – a death rate for every one million tons of coal of 2.998%, down 0.846% year-on-year. Other statistics compiled by the SAWS revealed a more damning picture, including the fact that China produced 35% of the world's coal in 2003, but reported 80% of coalmining deaths. Labor rights groups say the real number of deaths may be three or four times higher than officially reported, in part because of cover-ups by local officials eager to keep profitable but unsafe mines in operation.
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