MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Eight dead in Bolivia mining clash

Published by MAC on 2006-10-05

Eight dead in Bolivia mining clash

5th October 2006

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - The death toll rose to eight in fighting between state-paid and independent miners over who has the right to work in tin mines in western Bolivia, a government official said on Thursday.

The army was called to the region high in the Andes to quell protests after the independent miners seized several state-owned mines including the Huanuni mine, one of the world's largest tin mines, state news agency ABI said.

The workers were using dynamite to fight each other, local media reports said.

The government official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that eight miners were dead. Earlier reports said four had died and 22 were injured.

Mining Minister Walter Villaroel will travel to the area in an effort to persuade both sides they can work together at Huanuni, officials said.

The violence comes amid rising social tensions in Bolivia. So far, the leftist government of President Evo Morales has skillfully negotiated an end to recent protests and road blockages over Indian rights, natural resources and land, and coca-leaf farming.

Late last month, state-paid miners blocked highways demanding more jobs in the Huanuni mine, halting the flow of vehicles through one of Bolivia's main trade routes for several days. The mine is in Oruro, some 175 miles southeast of La Paz.

In the 1980s, Bolivia shut down dozens of mines and laid off some 35,000 miners amid an economic crisis caused by high inflation and low international prices for minerals.

With prices for minerals rising in the 1990s, the sacked miners started exploiting idle mines themselves and eventually formed the powerful cooperatives that are now fighting for more control over Bolivia's plentiful mining resources.

Miners helped push Morales to a sweeping victory in the December 2005 elections.

The Morales government has pledged to revitalize the mining industry but has yet to announce its mining modernization plan.

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