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AP Worldstream: Bolivian military retakes natural gas pipeline from protesters

JUAN KARITA,
Published: Apr 21, 2007

The military retook a control station on a pipeline that sends natural gas to Argentina and were slowly restoring operations after days of violent protests at gas installations in southern Bolivia, the government said late Friday.

Juan Ramon Quintana, chief of staff for President Evo Morales, told a news conference that shipments of gas to Argentina would be “normalized” Saturday.

Defense Minister Walker San Miguel said troops and police were guarding all energy instalations in southern Bolivia following disturbances that killed at least one person and wounded dozens more amid a provincial dispute over ownership of a rich gas deposit. There were no reports of violence in Friday’s retaking of the control station.

Hours earlier the government had announced it would temporarily reduce its natural gas exports to Argentina by about 75 percent and slightly decrease shipments to Brazil due to the protests, at an estimated loss of US$1 million (A730,000) per day.

But San Miguel said late Friday that operations would be restored in the coming hours.

On Wednesday, more than 1,000 protesters seized the Yacuiba pipeline station run by Transredes, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell. Protesters broke windows, set fire to two company cars, and threatened to shut off gas deliveries to Argentina.

Two neighboring provinces within Bolivia’s gas-rich southern state of Tarija dispute ownership of the Margarita field, still in its exploration and development stage but potentially one of the country’s largest.

The field straddles the poorly defined boundary between the O’Connor and Gran Chaco provinces, and each is demanding a larger share of the field’s eventual royalties.

The Spanish-Argentine company Repsol YPF holds a majority stake in the Margarita field, with the British company BG Group and Argentine company Pan American Energy each owning a minority interest.

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