Multiple injuries and one reported death in melee between protesters and police at gold mine; townspeople deny ever taking miners hostage

A violent confrontation between riot police and residents of a remote gold mining town in Peru’s southern Andes has left seven people injured, one with a bullet wound to the stomach, Peruvian newspapers reported Thursday.

One report from the Puno-based daily Los Andes said a 14-year-old boy also fell down an embankment and struck his head during the melee Wednesday and died while en route to the hospital in the provincial city of Juliaca.

Some three hundred residents from the town of Sandia, 532 miles southeast of the capital, Lima, seized the Cartagena Mining Group’s Untuca mine on Saturday, demanding jobs and the suspension of a new tunnel project.

The company reported that 29 miners were held against their will until the pre-dawn hours Wednesday, when they managed to escape. But townspeople denied that any hostages were ever taken.

Negotiations between protest leaders and a conciliatory commission, led by Américo Arizaca, the regional director of Energy and Mines, was about to begin when tensions over the heavy police presence spilled over into violence.

Daily El Comercio reported that residents climbed up onto a surrounding hillside and lobbed stones at the 80-strong police contingent, which fire back with tear gas canisters and bullets, one of which struck a 21-year-old in the stomach.

Six other people were injured, including two police, El Comercio 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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