-Protest blocks key access to Sumitomo Bolivia mine

LA PAZ, April 14 (Reuters) – Protests by local residents have blocked a key railway access to Bolivia’s San Cristobal mine since Monday, forcing the mine, owned by Japan’s Sumitomo Corp (8053.T), to store mineral ore on the site.

A San Cristobal official, who asked not to be named, said protesters have blocked a railway linking the mine with the main rail network.

“Company workers are not involved in the blockade. Local people are blocking it,” said the official, who the company has not authorized to speak publicly.

A spokesman for Bolivia’s Mining Ministry said he did not know the reason for the protest.

The official said the open pit mine has been stocking mineral ore in containers since the blockade started, but did not say whether the mine was still able to export some ore by road or if any stocks were held in Chilean ports.

San Cristobal exports all of its mineral production to foreign markets via Chile.

San Cristobal, in the central Potosi region, is one of the largest mines in landlocked Bolivia and produces silver, zinc and lead. It produces some 1,300 tonnes of zinc-silver ore, and 300 tonnes of of lead-silver ore per day.

According to Sumitomo’s website, the mine is the world’s sixth-largest producer of zinc and the third-largest producer of silver.

San Cristobal started operations in August 2007 and has a mine life of 16 years. (Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Eduardo Garcia)

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