FARC bombs Cerrejon railway; coal exports paralyzed

Colombia’s main rebel group FARC on Sunday bombed the railway of the country’s largest coal exporter Cerrejon LLC, forcing the company to suspend rail operations until Wednesday, an official said.

Julian Gonzalez, Cerrejon’s vice president of public affairs, said in a telephone interview that despite the attack, production and exports won’t be affected because the company has emergency stockpiles of coal at port facilities.

Nonetheless, he said, the attack and recent heavy rains leave the company uncertain if it will meet its 2011 production target of 32 million metric tons.

“We think we will meet this target, but it’s not for sure,” Gonzalez said. “Much will depend on how the weather cooperates over the next few days.”

Cerrejon is a joint venture equally controlled by mining company’s Xstrata PLC, Anglo American PLC and BHP Billiton. It operates in the far northern part of Colombia near the Venezuelan border, in a lightly populated region known as La Guajira.

Gonzalez said the attack occurred early Sunday morning when the rebels blew up a mostly empty coal train as it was returning to Cerrejon’s open pit mine from the Puerto Bolivar port. He said no one was injured.

The rail line runs 150 kilometers from the mine to the port.

Gonzalez blamed the attack on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group, which has been waging a guerrilla war against the government and big business for decades.

“It was certainly the FARC,” Gonzalez said.

He said the FARC has attacked Cerrejon’s operations three times this year, compared with about one attack per year in previous years. He said there have been other rebel incidents as well in 2011, including the brief kidnapping of a worker and an employee who was fired upon, allegedly by rebels.

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