NEW: Demonstrators call off protests and say they will meet with government officials
Wildcat miners say the new decrees will deny them the right to work
Three people were killed in clashes with police
The government says the new laws are necessary to protect workers
Wildcat miners in southeast Peru called off a week-old protest Thursday, a day after three people were killed in clashes with police.
Leaders called off demonstrations and agreed to meet with Peruvian officials Monday, Peru’s state-run Andina news agency reported.
“We are open to discussions … and we will search for a solution,” union leader Luis Otzuka said, according to Andina.
Miners in the country’s Madre de Dios region have been demonstrating ahead of the enforcement of several decrees aimed at cracking down on illegal mining.
The protesters tried to take over an airport, a bridge and a market Wednesday. Police pushed them back with tear gas and warning shots from their rifles. Protesters rained rocks on the riot police.
The government blamed the protesters’ actions for igniting the clashes that led to the deaths of Carlos Lanci Yumbato, 46; Julio Ticona Medina, 31; and Francisco Areque Jipa, 35.
According to the government, another 38 civilians and 17 police officers were injured. At least 60 people were arrested.
“The government of Peru rejects the acts of violence by the illegal miners in Madre de Dios and asks the regional authorities and the general public to support the work of the police to re-establish order and peace in that jurisdiction,” the government said in a statement.
President Ollanta Humala’s Cabinet chief, Oscar Valdes, said Thursday that the government remains firm on its intention to regulate the informal mining sector.
There are thousands of wildcat miners in Peru. The new decrees would impose sentences of as much as 10 years for operating illegal mines. Other informal mines must meet certain environmental standards or be abandoned.
Valdes said the issue is important because illegal mining has negative consequences such as child slavery, deforestation, drug trafficking and mistreatment of workers.
The new decrees also have the support of union leaders in the formal mining sector.
The president of the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers, Carmela Siguentes, said that formalizing the illegal miners would guarantee their right to a fair wage and provide an escape from exploitation by “mafias.”
But the protesters say that the new decrees will deny them their right to work.
Journalist Maria Elena Belaunde contributed to this report.