Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela probes gold miners' disappearance in Bolivar

"We want justice for our miner brothers," reads the sign held at a demonstration in Tumeremo. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption "We want justice for our miner brothers," reads the sign held at a demonstration in Tumeremo.

Venezuela's Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has said the armed forces are determined to find out what happened with 28 gold miners reported to have been killed.

Relatives say the miners have been missing since Friday.

They fear they may have been killed by a gang trying to take control of a wildcat mine near the town of Tumeremo.

The reports were initially dismissed by the local governor, who accused the opposition of stirring up trouble.

"So far there's not any indication of any person killed or missing," said Bolivar state Governor Francisco Rangel of the governing socialist PSUV party on Monday.

"What happened there, according to the security forces, was another clash between armed gangs that are trying to control mining activities in the area," added Mr Rangel.

Venezuelan air force troops have been searching for the bodies in the remote jungle area.

"We won't rest until we find those responsible for these acts, which in the eyes of all Venezuelans are abominable," said Mr Padrino.

'Fight over gold'

The missing miners worked at the Atenas gold mine. Reports of their disappearance first emerged on Saturday when worried relatives reported that their loved ones had not returned from work.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Protesters have blocked a road linking Venezuela to Brazil
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Relatives reported the miners missing after they failed to return from work on Friday evening

The number of missing miners soon grew from two to 28.

The families blocked a road in Tumeremo to demand an investigation. With tempers running high at the roadblock, reports soon spread about a deadly stand-off at the mine.

Local media quoted "eyewitnesses" who said the discovery of a significant gold deposit had pitched the miners against members of a gang who wanted to lay their hands on the lucrative find.

The gang members allegedly opened fire on the miners and later forced the survivors to load the bodies onto a lorry.

There are conflicting reports as to where the bodies were taken, with some locals saying they were driven further into the mine and others alleging they were dismembered by chainsaw and disposed of on land belonging to the gang leader.

Opposition lawmaker Americo de Grazia accused Mr Rangel of trying to cover up the alleged massacre.

He compared Mr Rangel to the governor of the Mexican state of Guerrero, where 43 students disappeared in September 2014.

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