Ecuadorian Oil Workers Freed

Achuar Indians seized eight Ecuadorean workers to protest Argentine-based CGC's exploration for oil in Block 23, which is their ancestral home. The block is located approximately 125 southeast of Quito.

The workers were held for nine days. Talks between government officials CGC and Achuar leaders finally led to the release of the hostages. In exchange for the release of the hostages, CGC will halt exploration operations until an agreement can be reached with the Achuar Indians about drilling. Interior Ministry Under Secretary Maximiliano Donoso said the government had recommended the company halt operations until the dispute with local communities could be worked out but that, "it is the company and Energy Ministry's decision."

Amazon Indians, including the Achuar community, argue that under the 1998 Constitution the government must consult local communities on oil activities. In the past, Energy Ministry officials have defended CGC's right to explore for crude because its contract was signed in 1996. Ecuadorean Indians have strongly resisted government plans to expand oil exploration, fearing environmental damage and health problems from pollutants.