Blockade over alleged missing miners halts Zijin's Colombia mine production

·2 min read

By Julia Symmes Cobb

BOGOTA, Aug 16 (Reuters) - A days-long community road blockade has halted production at Zijin Mining's Colombia gold project due to allegations that informal miners are trapped in tunnels on its land, the Chinese company said late on Monday.

Those holding the blockades, which began on Aug. 12, are demanding the national mining agency verify whether any miners are trapped, Zijin said, adding it supports an inspection as soon as possible.

"The mining rescue team will take charge," a spokesperson for the mining agency told Reuters. "Today the team is prepared to enter, we're waiting on the arrival of the miners who will guide the inspection of the tunnels."

Thousands of wildcat miners work in sometimes-deadly conditions in dozens of informal tunnels in Buritica municipality in northwestern Colombia, including many within or adjoining Zijin's concession.

The activities, controlled by the Clan del Golfo crime gang, are a safety issue for the surrounding community and affect Zijin's output, a Reuters investigation last year showed.

Roads near Buritica are shuttered, as is the entrance to Zijin's site, the company said in a statement late on Monday night, adding vehicles transporting contractors have been attacked and guard posts vandalized.

A further statement from Zijin on Tuesday morning said production is interrupted.

There is no confirmation any miners are trapped and therefore no figure for the alleged missing, the mining agency spokesperson added.

Local media reported late last week that dozens of miners could be trapped. The security department of Antioquia province said on Friday it had no official reports of missing people.

Buritica's mayor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A local resident told Reuters the town could soon begin to experience food shortages because of the blockade.

Zijin paid $1 billion in late 2019 to buy the extensive mine from Canada's Continental Gold, despite security concerns related to attacks on staff near Buritica and further afield. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Josie Kao)