HUANUNI, Bolivia – The Bolivian government sent in hundreds of police Friday to try to quell a deadly clash between rival bands of miners who hurled dynamite and homemade explosives at each other in a battle over one of South America's richest tin mines.
At least 11 people have been killed and more than 50 wounded since the fighting broke out Thursday between independent miners' cooperatives allied with President Evo Morales and miners employed by Bolivia's state mining company.
A truce on Thursday night lasted long enough for both sides to bury their dead.
Miners from both sides threw dynamite and homemade explosives at each other from the mountain ridges, sometimes separated by no more than 50 feet. The miners, some only in their teens, carried sticks of dynamite in backpacks and tucked in their belts.
In town, residents held a prayer vigil in the local church for the violence to end. Blood stains and holes from explosives littered a town soccer field where fighting took place Thursday.
Friday morning, members of the miners' cooperative rolled three tires packed with explosives down the side of the mountain toward positions held by state miners, causing an enormous explosion.
Bolivia's National Police Commander Isaac Pimentel told a news conference 700 more police were being sent to the area.
Government Minister Alicia Munoz said the police would not carry lethal weapons, though they do have tear gas.
The deployment came after overnight talks led by senior government officials failed to achieve a lasting agreement.
Defense Minister Walker San Miguel blamed "intransigents that have not signed on to the cease-fire" but said he hoped the rivals might return to negotiations.
"We do not believe the doors of dialogue have been shut," he said.
Jerson Mollinedo, director of the state miners' union, said his group wants peace, but not at any price.
"We don't want any more orphans," he said. "But we will not surrender even a millimeter to the cooperatives, because as a business we too want to employ our fellow workers."
The conflict turned deadly Thursday morning, when hundreds of miners belonging to independent cooperatives stormed the state-owned Huanuni mine, demanding more access to its tin deposits. State-employed miners counterattacked to regain control of the mine and the groups exchanged gunshots and flying sticks of dynamite.
"It rained dynamite," independent miner Felix Condori told The Associated Press.
More than 4,000 members of miners' cooperatives have descended on Huanuni, with more expected to arrive to battle the state-employed miners, who number about 1,000.
Morales was elected in December with a mandate to help Bolivia's poor indigenous majority see a larger share of the revenues from the landlocked nations' extensive mineral and natural gas deposits.
The cooperatives strongly backed Morales' campaign last year, and the president has since granted them some concessions at Huanuni.
"What should have been a blessing for the country, to possess such natural riches, today has become a curse," Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said in a national address Thursday evening.
While the Bolivian government so far declined to mobilize the military in response to the conflict, about 70 soldiers already stationed in Huanuni spent the night guarding the offices of Comibol, the national company operating the mine.
Among the dead were men and one woman representing both miners' groups, as well as a local bus driver. Presidential spokesman Alex Contreras read the names of the dead on national television Friday.
The battle for Huanuni has roots going back at least 20 years. In 1985, Comibol shuttered mines throughout Bolivia after a collapse in the world metal market, laying off some 30,000 workers.
While many of Huanuni's unemployed miners sought work in other fields and in other parts of the country, some remained, and as prices slowly recovered they formed independent mining cooperatives to continue mining tin on their own.
Following the Comibol layoffs, the cooperatives were for many years the backbone of Bolivia's mining industry. While the state company kept only a skeleton crew of workers during the late 1980s and 1990s, tens of thousands of independent miners produced the majority of the country's tin.
Bolivia eventually granted the Huanuni mine concession to British-based Allied Deals. When the company, now known as RBG Resources, abandoned its Bolivian operations in 2005, the mine returned to Comibol, despite demands from the miners' cooperatives for some control over the valuable deposits.
Rising tin prices have stoked demands by the independent miners, who see the Huanuni mine as a rare source of steady employment in South America's poorest country.