LA PAZ – Clashes between Bolivian police and Indians who kidnapped five employees of a mining company in the southwestern province of Potosi left one dead and eight wounded, while one officer was being detained, officials said Friday.
“There’s one person dead. We have four indigenous people who have significant injuries. We also are aware that there are four police who suffered some type of injury and that there’s a policeman detained there,” the ombud for Potosi, Rene Arroyo, told Bolivision TV.
The incident, confirmed by other sources in that Andean province, occurred Thursday 350 kilometers (217 miles) south of La Paz near the Mallku Khota mine, which is operated by the Bolivian unit of Canada’s South American Silver. Indians want to expel that company and exploit the deposit themselves.
Media outlets in Potosi identified the slain Indian as 45-year-old Jose Mamani, resident of a community near the mine.
President Evo Morales’ government on Thursday sent nearly 400 police and a delegation headed by Labor Minister Daniel Santalla to Potosi to negotiate the release of the kidnap victims – three mining engineers, a technician and a driver.
Two engineers were abducted a week ago and the other three on Monday, all of them near the mine, Arroyo told Efe.
The Canadian firm has been exploring the region since 2007 to evaluate the local silver and indium mining potential, but gold can also be found in the region in small quantities and some of the Indians want to exploit it themselves.
The Indians are also demanding the release of their leader, Cancio Rojas, who is under house arrest in Potosi city accused of illegally detaining and torturing other Indians and police officers for several days a few weeks ago as part of the same conflict.
One faction of the indigenous people living in the area has been trying to force out the mining company, whose operations they see as an obstacle to their own efforts to mine the gold.
South American Silver unit Compańia Minera Mallku Khota says a majority of the Indian clans in the area support the firm’s activities.
The company’s opponents, led by Rojas, have attacked other Indians and held police hostage, authorities say. EFE