Residents Storm Transredes, Threaten Margarita Takeover

Residents of Bolivia's Tarija department have taken over the San Antonio gas compression station operated by Bolivian gas transporter Transredes, government news agency ABI reported.

Police and military forces initially repelled the residents, but eventually retreated in order to avoid bloodshed from a confrontation.

After storming the installations, residents began to loot and destroy Transredes assets, according to ABI. They also took 50 policemen hostage and burned two vehicles.

The residents have threatened to shut down valves with the intention of cutting gas supply to Tarija department and Argentina.

Gas exports to Argentina would represent a US$1.5mn loss a day for the country.

Mario Adrian, Bolivia's hydrocarbons superintendent, confirmed Thursday morning that contrary to previous reports the valves had not been closed and exports and supply to Tarija were at normal levels, a spokesperson at ABI told BNamericas on Thursday afternoon.

The government will not use force to recover the San Antonio plant, choosing instead to pursue resolution of the issue through dialogue, ABI cited government minister Alfredo Rada as saying.

"Attempting an operation to retake the field would mean putting the lives of uniformed men at risk, but also those of civilians, and that is something we will not do. We think above all that we have to protect human life," Rada said.

The protestors also overtook the Pocitos station Wednesday afternoon. The station was looted and various installations and equipment wrecked, Transredes said in a statement.

Further, residents cut electronic communication between Pocitos and the control center that coordinates Bolivia's hydrocarbons transport system.

"Transredes will continue applying its crisis plan to minimize the impacts of these unfortunate events... categorically prioritizing life and the general interest," the statement said.

Citizens of O'Connor province in Tarija met Wednesday night and planned the Thursday takeover of the Margarita gas field operated by Spanish oil major Repsol YPF (NYSE: REP).

But Bolivia's president Evo Morales dispatched military units before the plan could be carried out, the ABI source said.

Protestors are applying pressure to the government in search of a resolution to the border dispute between Tarija provinces Gran Chaco and O'Connor over rights to the Chimeo canton. The province that holds the Chimeo canton, which features the Margarita gas field, would receive 45% royalties from the area.

O'Connor residents confirmed they will attend a meeting with government officials Friday. Residents of Gran Chaco planned to meet in Yacuiba Thursday to analyze the situation and decide if they would meet government officials, the ABI source said.

At least 20 people have been injured and one person killed this week as a result of the clash.

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