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13. July 2007

Bolivian gov't, striking miners reach preliminary accord

The Bolivian government and striking miners from the country's largest tin mine reached a preliminary agreement early Wednesday, which must be ratified by both sides within hours.

The agreement ends a week-long strike in the Huanuni mine. The miners demanded greater administrative control of the mine's growing profits. The strike cost the government 227,000 U.S. dollars a day.

The strikers at first said they would only talk to President Evo Morales or the country's vice president and have refused to meet several ministers in the city of Oruro, close to Huanuni some 260 km south of the country's administrative capital, La Paz

On Wednesday, the two sides agreed to give full control of the Pokosoni Summit mine to the state mining company Bolivian Mining Corporation (Comibol), to launch the building of a new foundry on the site within four months, as well as increased state investment of 9 million dollars in equipment and tougher actions against looters of tin ore.

Two other points remain to be agreed: a pay rise and a further state investment of 9.8 million dollars in the Pokosoni site, which has received 3 million dollars.

Top officials from the Mining Ministry and Comibol carried out the negotiations with leaders of the Joint Mineworkers Union.

Late last year, at least 16 people died in clashes between state-employed miners and independent miners fighting over access to the mine.

The government then expanded Comibol's operations in Huanuni, and most independent miners accepted salaried state jobs.

But striking miners have blamed the jobless independent miners for the recent increase in mineral theft from Huanuni, while unemployed independent miners have gathered in the area to demand the government give them new sites to work.

Bolivia, the world's fourth largest tin producer, exported 144 million dollars of ore and refined tin in 2006. High international tin prices saw the Huanuni mine earn 15.8 million dollars for the Bolivian government in the first five months of this year.

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