(Adds Chinese Foreign Ministry comment)
By Alexandra Valencia
QUITO Dec 15 Ecuador sent soldiers and police
on Thursday to an isolated jungle area after a policeman was
killed and several security officials injured in a violent
protest against a Chinese copper exploration project amid
conflicts between mining companies and indigenous communities.
Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, declared a 30-day state
of emergency in Morona Santiago province, home to the
Panantza-San Carlos exploration project operated by the
ExplorCobres company. His government said "illegally armed
groups" protested against the project on Wednesday.
"Violent people want to take over the mining camp," Correa
said on Twitter. "We have one dead police officer and several
others injured. Criminals!"
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang
said China was paying close attention to the incident and was in
touch with Ecuador about it, although, as far as he knew, no
Chinese had been injured.
China appreciates Ecuador's steps to bring the situation
under control, Geng said, noting Correa's condemnation.
"China is willing to work with Ecuador to take effective
steps to create a good environment for bilateral practical
cooperation," he told a daily news briefing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Ecuador last month.
Local media reported that the indigenous Shuar group, which
accuses authorities of generating violence by kicking them out
of their ancestral home to make way for mining developments,
staged the protest.
The head of Ecuador's larger indigenous association, CONAIE,
called on the church to mediate the conflict.
"These are no invaders, these are communities who have lived
here for hundreds of years," said Jorge Herrera.
The incident highlights tensions facing Ecuador and much of
mineral-rich Latin America - how to develop vast mineral wealth
while addressing deep inequalities, environmental concerns and
Reuters was not immediately able to reach ExplorCobres.
China has been the largest financier of Ecuador, an OPEC
nation, since 2009 and is heavily present in its oil industry.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by
Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Peter Cooney)