(Adds quote from Inner Mongolia governor, compensation scheme)
BEIJING, June 1 China's vast northern region of
Inner Mongolia began a month-long overhaul of its lucrative coal
mining industry on Wednesday, state media said, to ease public
anger over the death of a herder who was struck by a coal truck.
Inner Mongolia has seen scattered protests over the past
week or so by ethnic Mongolians, sparked by the death of the
herder, but which have morphed into broader demands for
protection of their culture.
The government, ever worried by threats to stability, is now
trying to address some of the protesters' broader concerns about
the damage caused by coal mining to traditional grazing lands of
the Mongolian people in China.
The official Xinhua news agency, in an English-language
report, said the death of the herder had "led to heightened
concerns over industry practices in the resource-rich region's
"The regional coal mine industry bureau ordered local work
safety watchdogs to strengthen supervision of the coal mines to
ensure safe production practices, protection of the environment,
and attention to the welfare of local residents," it said.
Inner Mongolia's governor, the ethnic
Mongolian Bagatur, said the government would "leave no
stone unturned" in their probe into mines which damage the
environment or seriously affect residents.
"The issue cannot be ignored," Xinhua quoted
Bagatur as saying. "We
will conduct a thorough probe, and no
individual or enterprise shall be spared if
violations are found."
The government is also considering setting up
a compensat ion scheme for
residents and herders who suffer from
" excessive noise and
dust " created by mining and the
transport of coal, the report added, without
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up less than 20 percent of the
roughly 24 million population of Inner Mongolia, have complained
that their traditional grazing lands have been ruined by mining
and desertification, and that the government has tried to force
them to settle in permanent houses.
Inner Mongolia, which covers more than a tenth of China's
land mass, is supposed to offer a high degree of self-rule, but
Mongolians say the Han Chinese majority run the show and have
been the main beneficiaries of economic development.
China's Mongolians rarely take to the streets, unlike
Tibetans or Xinjiang's Uighurs, making the latest protests
Rights groups say word of the protests, and of the death of
the herder, spread fast online in Inner Mongolia.
Xinhua said that four people had been charged with the death
of the herder, a man named Mergen, who like many of China's
Mongolians goes by only one name.
"Mergen and more than 20 others tried to block coal trucks,
which local residents said had impacted their lives, late at
night on May 10," Xinhua added.
"Mergen attempted to block the path of a coal truck and
quarreled with the drivers. According to police, the truck
dragged Mergen for 145 meters, leading (to) Mergen's death," the
Xinhua said the trial would be public, but did not say when
it would happen.
Inner Mongolia is China's biggest coal producing region and
the protests come as severe power shortages loom ahead of the
summer peak energy season.
But infrastructure is poor and the race by truck drivers,
drawn by high margins, to transport coal to the country's east
has been accompanied by a spate of accidents.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)