3 engineers free in standoff over Bolivian mine

Jul 7, 2012, 3:17 AM

Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) – Three of five Bolivian engineers working for a Canadian mining company were released on Friday by Quechua Indians who had seized them to press their opposition to a planned open-pit silver mine, a relative of one of the engineers said.

“I’ve been informed extra-officially of the release of the hostages and I am going to meet my brother,” the sister of one of the three, Adrian Fernandez, told Bolivision TV.

However, other media reports suggested the engineers, seized on Monday, may have escaped. The three were taken by Bolivian authorities to the nearby regional capital of Oruro, said Fernandez.

The three gained freedom a day after a Quechua Indian was killed and six people injured in a clash with police in a region of Bolivia’s arid and remote southern highlands where Quechua Indians live in relative autonomy.

The fate of two other engineers working for South American Silver was not immediately known.

Nor was it clear exactly how the civilians killed Thursday died.

A local Quechua leader said he suffered a gunshot wound. But Interior Minister Carlos Romero told reporters preliminary reports indicate it was mishandling of dynamite.

Romero said police were attacked with rocks and one officer became separated from the group and has not been found.

Residents of the Quechua community of Mallku Khota who detained the South American Silver workers say they fear the project, which would be one of the continent’s largest open-pit silver mines, would damage the environment.

Bolivia’s mining minister, Mario Virreira, claimed last week that the locals weren’t worried about environmental contamination but rather sought control of the silver deposit, which South American Silver says contains 140 million ounces of silver.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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3 engineers free in standoff over Bolivian mine