LA PAZ – The Bolivian peasants accused of killing one of the police officers trying to evict them from the gold mine they had occupied, have released the four officers they had held hostage since Monday, Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero said.
The peasants held the officers captive after ambushing them Monday near the Ananea community north of La Paz, when dozens of agents tried to dislodge them from a gold mine to which the local mineworkers’ cooperative had been granted the concession.
The police unit went to the area to carry out a court order to evict the peasants who had illegally taken control of the mine.
Romero said on Panamericana radio that the agents were freed and that in the standoff, five policemen were injured.
About the death of Sgt. Jose Luis Quispe, he said that one story indicates that he was pushed from behind into a ravine, while another says he fell down the cliff when he lost his balance due to the explosion of dynamite the peasants threw at him.
Romero said that a criminal complaint has been filed in order to “punish those who perpetrated this crime to the full extent of the law,” and that the Attorney General’s Office will open the investigation into the slaying, the taking of hostages and aggression against the police.
In a previous communique, the Interior Ministry said “the attack was launched even though police told the locals that their mission was one of persuasion and prevention” to get them to leave the mine.
A peasant leader of the area, Guillermo Gironda, said on Erbol radio that the police officer died when he fell down a ravine while escaping from the area of the confrontation.
Gironda called on more peasants of the region to protest the presence of the agents who were still there.
According to the daily Pagina Siete, Gironda accused the local mineworkers’ cooperative of not respecting an agreement to pay royalties to the peasant community for the gold it mines.
The conflict broke out because some time ago the peasant community expelled the workers from the mine, but they took it back on Monday, which sparked the clash between the two sides that left several peasants injured.