Bolivian protesters suspend Sumitomo mine blockade

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivian peasant farmers called off a 10-day protest against the San Cristobal mine owned by Japan’s Sumitomo Corp late on Thursday, a local government official said.

Protesters pull down a container full of minerals in Avaroa border with Chile, some 1000 km (621 miles) south of La Paz, April 16, 2010. REUTERS/Rolando Burgoa

Hundreds of local residents, who are demanding compensation from the company for the use of water supplies, overturned containers full of mineral ore and destroyed a small office at the remote site in the Potosi region.

“After yesterday’s meeting between the residents and the governor, we’ve got a temporary solution. The blockade’s been lifted,” an official from Potosi’s provincial government told Reuters.

“The protesters have set May 8 as the deadline for their demands to be resolved,” the official added.

The demonstrators are also calling for the installation of services, including electricity, running water and mobile phone coverage.

No one at the mine could be reached to comment.

The company said on Tuesday it would progressively reduce operations due to the blockade, which cut off the main rail access of the silver-lead-zinc mine, which ships ore via ports in neighboring Chile.

Protests by Indian groups against mining companies are fairly common in impoverished Bolivia and in neighboring Peru, a leading producer of silver, zinc and copper.

Throughout the Andean region indigenous groups are demanding greater control over natural resources and a bigger share of their countries’ mining and energy revenues.

San Cristobal is one of the largest mines in landlocked Bolivia, producing some 1,300 tons of zinc-silver ore, and 300 tons of lead-silver ore per day.

According to Sumitomo’s website, the mine is the world’s sixth-largest producer of zinc and the third-largest producer of silver.

Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Walter Bagley