Colombian Oil Workers Stage 24-hour Strike

Union oil workers at Ecopetrol began a 24-hour strike on Thursday to protest an arrest warrant which was issued for a senior union official accused of ties to leftist rebels. A labor leader said the stoppage would not affect short term production. The stoppage by the union members, who make up about half of Ecopetrol's 7,400 employees, is also a protest against firings of several workers last year, USO chief Rodolfo Gutierrez said in a statement.

The strike began at 6 a.m. local time in protest over the arrest order against Hernando Hernandez. Hernandez, who is likely to be put under house arrest, is the former president of Ecopetrol's Workers' Union (USO) and is currently its international representative. "We're not going to affect production directly. Today the company will keep going with its contingency plans, but routine work and maintenance could be pushed back, causing an impact in the medium term," Gutierrez said.

In a statement, Ecopetrol said that oil fields were working normally, as well as its two refineries, the 235,000 barrel-per-day Barrancabermeja plant and the 76,000 bpd complex at Cartagena.

Prosecutors who issued the warrant say they suspect Hernandez is linked to the National Liberation Army, or ELN, the second-largest Marxist rebel group in Colombia. Hernandez denied the charges, claiming the government is retaliating against the union.