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Colombia mine accident kills 7, pressures govt

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 14 Sep 2011 17:19 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Mining sector under pressure for poor safety record

* Around 81 miners killed in accidents from Jan-July

* Choco produces around half the gold in Colombia

By Jack Kimball

BOGOTA, Sept 14 (Reuters) - A gold mine collapsed on Wednesday in a remote Colombian jungle, killing seven workers and adding to the troubles of the country's mining sector.

Colombia's mining regulator, Ingeominas, said that five of the dead were women and that three more people were injured in the accident in western Choco, a province that produced about half of Colombia's total gold output last year.

Accidents, allegations of corruption and institutional deficiencies have plagued Colombia's mining industry, forcing the government to aim for an overhaul at a time when hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign investment are pouring in.

At least 81 workers were killed in mine accidents from January to July this year, versus 173 people in the full-year 2010 and 58 in 2009, according to the energy ministry.

The government is trying to improve regulation of the mining sector after the high-profile accidents, including one that killed 73 workers last year, skyrocketing levels of permit requests and accusations of corruption in licensing.

Colombia's reforms include restructuring institutions and changes to a minin code. [ID:nN1E7811G4]

Once considered a failing state, Colombia has turned its image around by battering leftist rebels and drug gangs, which has brought in billions of dollars in foreign investment.

Oil and mining exploration has moved into new areas opened up by the offensive against Marxist rebels. That has helped push up output, especially of oil and coal, to historic highs.

While attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are much less frequent than a few years ago, they have picked up this year. Protests by local communities around oil fields and to a lesser extent at mines also pose a threat to the industries. [ID:nS1E78D0JV]

There is also growing concern that FARC rebels and criminal gangs are using mining operations as a funding source.

"There are numerous reports of FARC and other criminal groups engaging in illegal gold mining in order to fund their operations, which often involve shoddy mining practices that result in environmental damages and sour local communities against mining in general," Eurasia Group said in a note. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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