LA PAZ – The Bolivian mining groups that are facing off over control of the Andean Colquiri mine came to blows and hurled stones at one another when those working for private cooperatives returned to the same-named town, officials said.
About 200 cooperative-miners returned Saturday to the town of Colquiri, 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of La Paz, after remaining away for several weeks because their rival group working for the state was preventing them from reentering the area, Government Minister Carlos Romero said.
The problem arose when some cooperative members detonated dynamite charges and firecrackers and gathered in the town square, which – Romero said – was taken over by the union miners in a “provocative act.”
“About 60 of the (government miners) organized themselves, moved to a hill and also detonated dynamite. Then, there were some physical confrontations and an exchange of stones and blunt materials,” Romero said.
The clash left 10 people injured, of whom – Romero said – the most serious cases are one person who was hit in the head by a stone and a pregnant woman who injured her hand when she fell to the ground in the struggle.
There have been no overt confrontations since then because both groups are entrenched in the area, but dynamite charge explosions can still be heard around town, the minister said.
The 140 police officers that were stationed in Colquiri have been joined by 210 more to prevent new fights during the night, Romero said.
The Colquiri tin and zinc mine was expropriated in June by President Evo Morales from Swiss firm Glencore and since then it has been the site of a confrontation between the two groups of miners, a struggle that worsened in September with several violent incidents.
The most serious such incident occurred more than two weeks ago when cooperative members staging a demonstration threw dynamite charges at the union headquarters of their rivals in La Paz, killing one miner and injuring several others.
The state workers demanded that the national government take charge of the entire mine, while the cooperative members insisted that La Paz comply with a decree to turn over the mine’s richest vein of ore to them to exploit.
Finally, both groups gave in and signed an agreement to end their clashes and share the exploitation of the disputed vein.