MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Guatemalan farmer blockades stop Skye drilling

Published by MAC on 2005-06-10

Guatemalan farmer blockades stop Skye drilling

By Frank Jack Daniel, Reuters

Friday, 10 June 2005

Guatemala City - Drilling was stopped for several days at a Guatemalan nickel project this week when Mayan Indian locals brandishing machetes felled trees to block an access road, a project spokeswoman said on Friday.

The stoppage, now over, was the latest outbreak of anti-mining feeling in Guatemala, which is keen to attract investment to exploit gold, sliver and nickel reserves.

Canada's Skye Resources Inc. was forced to stop exploration and move its machinery to another part of the property after local farmers accused the miners of drilling on the wrong side of a line dividing community-owned land from company property.

"When they blocked the road they chopped down trees. There were about 40 people with machetes. We turned around and went back," plant manager Arnoldo Garcia told Reuters by telephone.

Company spokeswoman Regina Rivera said Skye agreed to change its exploration plan after negotiations with the Las Nubes community, which sits near the disputed boundary.

"We listened and they told us the reasons they want us to leave -- because the territorial line is not clear," Rivera said. "We don't want problems with these people, we want to respect them totally, and if they don't like it we pull back."

Skye said drilling, which only started in May, had now resumed further away from the community. The company said it would not drill on the disputed land until government surveyors had ruled on who it belonged to.

In the absence of definitive land ownership laws, land disputes in Guatemala frequently simmer for many years. Resistance to mines was strong in Guatemala early this year when a villager was shot dead in clashes with security forces after peasants blocked a highway another miner was using to transport mine equipment.

Daniel Vogt, who represents local Mayan development group Aepdi, said he was pleased violence had been avoided at the Skye project but said the dispute s howed why it was important to adhere to International Labor Organization (ILO) rules. "I am pleased the company is not using repression to force the community to accept a proposal allowing them to stick to their own time table, but this is another case where if (ILO) 169 had been complied with, the situation would not have occurred," he said.

The ILO's Convention 169 is an agreement signed by Guatemala that requires community consultation before exploration of subsoil beneath indigenous communal lands.

Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in Guatemala; Mexico City newsroom

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