BOGOTA – An attack on the railway from the El Cerrejon coal mine in La Guajira, a province in eastern Colombia, has halted exports of the mineral, Mining Minister Mauricio Cardenas said.
The attack, which was supposedly mounted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group, occurred around 1:34 a.m. Sunday about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from the mine outside Puerto Bolivar, Cardenas told Caracol Radio.
The explosion destroyed about 250 meters (820 feet) of railway and caused a train that had just unloaded coal to derail.
“(The attack) causes a loss for all us Colombians because we cease to export 10,000 tons of coal daily and that represents about $4 million in round numbers that all we Colombians lose,” Cardenas said.
“It is likely that the event that occurred blocked the mine’s transport operation for close to three days, and that threatens the export goal that the company had set,” Julian Gonzalez, director of sustainability programs at El Cerrejon, told RCN Radio.
The attack was carried out by the FARC, Gonzalez said, adding that 2011 had been “the most difficult year in Cerrejon’s history because of the terrorist attacks.”
The FARC’s attacks on the railway are designed to have “an enormous impact on the country’s economy, especially the economy of La Guajira, which depends to a great extent on the royalties received,” Gonzalez said.
El Cerrejon, the world’s biggest strip coal mine, is jointly owned by Xstrata PLC, Anglo American PLC and BHP Billiton.
The mine produces about 32 million tons annually of coal.
Company executives announced an expansion in August of the coal export terminal.
The goal is to expand El Cerrejon’s exports to 40 million tons annually.
The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964, has an estimated 8,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.
The Colombian government has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.
The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC’s main means of financing its operations. EFE