Striking coal miners defied Premier Valentin Pavlov's demand that they return to work, and a local official in a major coal region appealed to Russian leader Boris Yeltsin to try to end the strike.

The three-week strike has idled 165 coal mines, about a quarter of the collieries in the Soviet Union. The walkout has become the focus of a bitter political tug-of-war between President Mikhail Gorbachev's government and supporters of Yeltsin, head of the dominant Russian republic.Coal Minister Mikhail Shchadov said on Soviet television Sunday night 3 million tons of coal have not been delivered because of the strike. He added that so far the walkout has cost $152 million in profits.

Coal shortages have shut down dozens of blast furnaces and crippled Soviet steel mills and other key enterprises.

Striking miners are seeking large pay increases but have also demanded the resignation of Gorbachev and his government, blaming him for failing to keep promises made to end a 1989 strike that affected nearly the entire Soviet coal industry.

Anatoly Tuleev, chairman of the local government council in the Siberian coal center of Kemerovo, sent Yeltsin a telegram Sunday urging him to ask the miners to go back to work for the good of the country, the official news agency Tass said.

"The matter has gone too far," Tuleev said. "The coal problem affects the entire country. . . . A chain-reaction is going from them to the paralysis of the entire economy.

"I get hundreds of telegrams. Children in kindergartens and patients in hospitals are freezing," he said in the telegram. "One cannot read them without pain."

Yeltsin has been generally supportive of the strikers' demands, leading to accusations from the central government he is using the strike to further his own political ambitions.

Pavlov told the miners in an address on Soviet television Saturday night they were "in confrontation with the entire country" and ordered them to return to work, but Tass said the strikes continued Sunday at more than 150 mines in coal regions across the country.