Twenty-nine gold miners trapped by protesters in southern Peru

Twenty-nine gold miners employed by Peruvian Cartagena Mining Group’s “Untuca” project in Peru’s southern Puno Department were being held against their will Tuesday for a fourth consecutive day by more than 300 local residents demanding jobs.

“We don’t know if they are alive or if they are receiving medical attention or food,” said Ernesto Bendezú, a spokesperson for the mining consortium, was reported saying by Pachamama radio.

A conciliatory commission, led by Américo Arizaca Ávalos, the regional director of Energy, and Mines, as well as representatives from the mining company, were going to head to the mine Tuesday to try to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict.

Approximately 150 policemen from the cities of Puno and Juliaca, were deployed Monday to the mine, where they maintained a standoff with the protesters.

“We hope that these people think about what they are doing and become aware that they are committing a crime. As a first sign of good faith, they should lower their arms and let the people go. We cannot negotiate with a gun to our head,” Bendezú told Radioprogramas radio.

Days before the workers were detained, hundreds of local residents in the town of Sandia, 532 miles southeast of the capital, Lima petitioned the mining consortium to consider them for hire and to suspend the excavation of a tunnel, which allegedly posed environmental risks.

According to Bendezú, the community members also asked for a 300 hectare or 741.32 acre mining concession that corresponds to 30 percent of the mine’s exploitable territory.

Another source of discontent originated from the locals believing the mine was Chilean-owned. But the mine is 100 percent Peruvian, Bendezú said, and belongs to a family from northern Peru.

“We are a small mining company, our production doesn’t even reach 250 tons per day and we only have 120 workers, which are almost all from the region,” he said.

Though mining in Peru accounts for almost half of its annual $8 billion in exports – it produced 6.9 percent of the world’s gold in 2007 – it has repeatedly failed to invest in the mining communities where companies have often caused irreversible environmental damage by contaminating rivers and land. Protests are frequent as environmentalists and community leaders try to protect their land, health and future.

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