The confrontation between employees of the state mining company Comibol and ex-cooperative workers at the Huanuni mine in Bolivia is escalating.

Yesterday up to 4,000 Comibol miners are reported to have voted to go on strike and set up roadblocks. They are demanding from the government autonomous management of the company in addition to a payment of $30 million for the construction of new and larger facilities for treating tin concentrates and some $9 million in working capital the government promised when it nationalised the company.

On Monday hundreds of unemployed cooperative miners gathered around the mine, threatening to block entry to the site in support demands that they be given access to areas they can mine. The protest is supported by the national confederation of co-operatives, Fencomin, which is also opposing government plans to increase state control of mining and raise taxes.

Last week troops were called to the area to prevent “theft” of tin ore from around the mine site. Further troops may now be called in to prevent clashes between the two groups and improve security.

Last October tensions between Comibol workers and co-operative workers resulted in several days of fighting in which 18 people were killed. The government responded to this by re-organising the operation and taking thousands of co-operative workers onto Comibol’s payroll last November. In the first half of this year official production from the mine has risen to 3,825 tonnes, or 638 tonnes per month, but unofficial output is estimated at a further 200 tpm.