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Bosses charged in Zambia mine shooting skip court

A Zambian judge has issued arrest warrants for two Chinese coal mine managers after the defendants failed to appear in court on accusations of firing upon striking workers.

Xiao Li Shan, 48, and Wu Jiu Hua, 46, have been charged with 12 counts of attempted murder after firing on striking workers. Nearly a dozen miners were injured in the shooting on Oct. 15. They were released on a $10,700 bail in October.

When bail was granted, there were public fears that the pair may return to China instead of facing trial as China invests billions of dollars in Zambia, and the two countries are said to be close allies.

The Chinese embassy in Lusaka refused to comment Tuesday on why the coal mine managers had not shown up in court.

Magistrate Jacob Mbolela said he granted the arrest warrants Tuesday after the two managers did not attend the preliminary hearing. He said arrest warrants have also been issued for two Chinese diplomats who signed their bail papers, acting as guarantors.

In the aftermath of October's shooting, the Chinese embassy released a statement calling it "an isolated incident." It said that three Chinese nationals had also been shot and the incident led to "massive equipment damages to the mine property."

At the same time, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu in Beijing said that "Chinese managers mistakenly hurt several local workers."

Oliver Pelete, a Zambian provincial official, said the workers have since been paid the money that sparked the protest and that the company also agreed to replace the mine managers involved.

According to current government figures, China has invested nearly $3 billion in Zambia and Chinese companies employ more than 10,000 people in mineral-rich country, where they are mining copper and coal.

But there is long-running controversy over China's role in the southern Africa country, where unions have long complained about pay and working conditions. Some expect that Zambian President Rupiah Banda could face further backlash in the 2011 polls amid heightened tensions over the countries' relationship.

"We don't care what investment these people have brought in the country. They should learn to dialogue with workers and their union leaders," said Rayford Mbulu, president of the Chinese Mineworkers Union of Zambia.

Opposition leader Michael Sata, who made China's presence in Zambia a campaign issue in the 2006 elections, condemned the October shooting. "It is only in Zambia where a foreigner can shoot so many Zambians and get away with it. The implication is that these Chinese are above the law," he said.

But Obby Chibuluma, a local civil society leader, said the coal mine shooting was not reflective of Chinese employers in the country.

"They respect our labor laws. This is a case of a few bad eggs tarnishing the name of all Chinese," he said.

Chinese trade with Africa has soared by a factor of 10 since 2001, passing the $100 billion mark last year.

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Associated Press writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.