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Financial Times: Bolivian troops take control of gas plants

By Hal Weitzman in Lima
Published: April 20 2007 03:00 | Last updated: April 20 2007 03:00

Bolivian armed forces have occupied important gas installations after violent clashes between troops and protesters left one man dead and 11 others injured.

The incidents, sparked by a dispute between residents from two rival provinces over who will receive most of the royalties from the gas fields, have turned into a political hot potato. “I cannot understand why two provinces in the same state would be fighting constantly,” President Evo Morales said on Wednesday. “I ask our brothers and sisters in the region to quit fighting over internal problems or money.”

Mr Morales’s administration has pointed the finger at Mario Cossio, governor of the southern region of Tarija, who it says should have resolved the conflict. Mr Cossio, an opposition leader critical of the government, says La Paz should have been more active in preventing the violence breaking out.

The president yesterday appointed Mario Virreira, the governor of Potosí, a neighbouring department, to mediate negotiations between the warring provinces. But local civic leaders announced they would not accept any solution imposed by the central government and would reject any intervention by Mr Virreira.

The dispute turned violent on Tuesday night, when one group of several thousand demonstrators overpowered troops at a pumping station in the city of Yacuiba, near Bolivia’s border with Argentina.

The protesters threatened to shut the valves, which would have cut off most of the country’s gas exports to Argentina. Security forces responded with tear gas and rubber bullets to retake the facility, part of a pipeline operated by Transredes, a subsidiary of Shell.

In a separate incident, protesters confronted soldiers as they attempted to take over another Transredes pipeline station in Villamontes, 90km north of Yacuiba, but were prevented from doing so.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007


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