Colombian mine Cerrejon says it has initial deal with indigenous Wayuu, leaders disagree

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian coal mine Cerrejon has reached a preliminary agreement with a Wayuu indigenous community to comply with environmental and health requirements in its operations, the company said on Tuesday, which community leaders denied.

The Provincial community in La Guajira has argued with Cerrejon, which is owned jointly by BHP Group, Anglo American and Glencore, for years over its use , of water, pollution, dust, noise, and health problems.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court earlier ordered Cerrejon to comply with requirements aimed at protecting health and the environment, while a United Nations Special Rapporteur called on the government to suspend some of the mine’s operations on health and environmental concerns.

The agreement includes building a community health center and an environmental rehabilitation program, which will include planting 248,000 trees, and other measures ordered by the court.

The company will implement a program to clean community facilities and nearby areas over the next five years and will also provide technical support for measuring air quality, Cerrejon said in a statement.

Indigenous leaders said there was no deal.

“Today ... Cerrejon has issued a public statement in which it lies seriously and fraudulently, and tries to deceive the country and international bodies,” Provincial community leaders said in a statement.

Responding to the Special Rapporteur’s concerns, Cerrejon said it operates responsibly to help reduce impacts on the environment and community, while looking to improve existing controls and processes.

Cerrejon complies with applicable quality standards for air and water, the company said in a separate statement, adding it regularly monitors water sources in the area.

Production at Cerrejon has been held up since Aug. 31 because of a strike organized by its largest workers’ union demanding better pay, health benefits and education among other things.

A decision to reorganize shifts has become a major sticking point in negotiations. While Cerrejon says changes are necessary to keep operations competitive, union Sintracarbon says it will endanger workers’ health.

The company on Monday proposed establishing technical tables to gradually implement the new shifts, but Sintracarbon said “there was no progress whatsoever.”

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; editing by Grant McCool