LA PAZ — Farmers and mine workers have forcibly occupied Canada-based South American Silver’s Malku Khota mine in Bolivia, the company said Wednesday, as the group pushed for La Paz to take over the mine.
“They arrived with explosives and people were forced to flee into the mountains. We’ve stayed up all night hoping for news,” mine operations chief Fernando Caceres told local broadcaster ATB.
The occupiers moved in late Tuesday to take over the mine, about 340 kilometers (210 miles) south of the capital La Paz, and had assumed control by Wednesday morning. No one was injured in the incident.
“We have taken the mine peacefully, without hitting or assaulting anyone; nor did we loot anything or force anyone to do what we said. We are here because of government ministers’ inability to resolve our demands,” Leonardo Montano, the group’s leader, told Radio Fides.
“We see that they are sending in police. And we are putting the government on notice: if they want a clash, they are going to get one. If they want bloodshed, they are going to get bloodshed,” Montano warned.
“We are not leaving the mine until the government takes charge of it and not the Canadian company.”
Caceres said the squatters belonged to cooperatives in the nearby town of Llallagua in Bolivia’s Potosi department that have been pressuring South America Silver to abandon its mining claim and threatening its supporters.
Local communities in the region are split. Some support the private company, while others want it out.
Last week, protesters in La Paz called for the repossession of the mine but found little support in the government for their demands.
Potosi governor Felix Gonzales told Radio Erbol that “the government is sending in reinforcements to maintain order, but we won’t exclude militarization of the region if people’s safety is threatened.”
South American Silver has invested more than $50 million to advance the mine project since 2007. Malku Khota is one of the world’s largest untapped resources of silver and indium, a rare metal used in flat-screen LCD televisions.