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UPDATE 1-Avianca pilots in Colombia agree to lift strike

(Adds quote from Avianca chairman)

BOGOTA, Nov 10 (Reuters) - The majority of Colombian flagship airline Avianca’s local pilots have voted to end a seven-week strike and return to work, their union said on Friday, despite no resolution in their dispute over wages and benefits.

Pilots from the Colombian Association of Civil Aviators, or ACDAC, began a walkout on Sept. 20, demanding increased salary and benefits they said would have put them on par with the airline’s pilots in other countries.

After weeks of stalemate between the union and Avianca Holdings management, the union met for much of Thursday to discuss and vote on an initiative put forward by Colombia’s ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret, to lift the strike.

They agreed late on Thursday to return to work in 72 hours, according to ACDAC.

“ACDAC and the unionized civilian aviators, as a result of the intervention by the ombudsman, have decided to suspend the strike, resume air operations 72 hours after signing this document and thus normalize their work activities,” said the agreement, signed by the union.

More than 700 of the company’s 1,300 Colombian pilots voted to strike in September, forcing Avianca to ground hundreds of flights, and causing headaches for thousands of passengers who were forced onto later flights or different airlines.

The protest was ruled illegal by a Colombian tribunal as it interfered with essential public transport.

Avianca chairman German Efromovich told local radio that the airline had not made a deal with anyone involved in the strike, and that pilots who participated would face regular disciplinary procedures if they returned to work.

“All the pilots who return to work will be welcomed, but all, without exception, will be subject to disciplinary processes,” Efromovich, Avianca’s majority shareholder, told Blu Radio.

Though it was invited, the airline did not attend meetings between the union, ombudsman and labor ministry, the agreement said.

Avianca had called the pilots’ demands unreasonable. Pilots wanted reduced working hours and for Avianca to pay 70 percent of their monthly taxes, among other things.

In an effort to mitigate the effect of the cancellations, the civil aviation authority allowed Avianca to bring in foreign pilots to fill in on some routes.

Avianca, a member of the Star Alliance, carried 29.5 million passengers in 2016. It has more than 21,000 employees and serves 105 destinations in 28 countries in the Americas and Europe. (Reporting by Helen Murphy, additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Rosalba O’Brien)