56 workers freed at Canadian mine in Ecuador, activist says

56 workers freed at Canadian mine in Ecuador, activist says

Ecuadoran indigenous activists freed 56 workers taken hostage at a Canadian mine, ending a six-day protest over a planned strip mine in the Andes, the protest leader said.

“These people, that we will insist on calling paramilitaries, were released and are in good health and are with the police,” Indian leader Gustavo Leon told AFP by telephone.

The Ascendent Copper employees include 34 retired soldiers. They were handed over to police in Junin, in Imbabura province, where they were held this week in a chapel, Leon said.

On Monday, the native activists took hostage employees of Canada’s Ascendant Copper, demanding that the company drop plans to strip-mine in a nature preserve in the Andes.

Some 15,000 indigenous Ecuadorans living near the preserve targeted for copper prospecting complained that the mining concession Ascendant was granted in 2004 is illegal because they were not consulted.

Apart from their claim to the land, local residents are afraid of the environmental damage the planned strip mine might cause to a 205,000-hectare (500,000-acre) wilderness stretching across four provinces bordering Colombia.

The mining company insists the retired soldiers are armed security guards hired to protect their facilities.

Ascendant Copper manager Francisco Veintimilla earlier this week denied that the company was trying to take land illegally and said that some of the security guards held captive had been injured.

A human rights activist who visited the hostages, however, said Friday that the captives had been treated well and fed two meals a day.

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