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South African Miners, Lonmin Reach 'Peace' Deal

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A top South African platinum mine official says several parties have signed a peace accord after weeks of illegal strikes and the shooting deaths of 34 striking workers by police. But two key parties are holding out - the renegade union that started the strike, and some of the workers themselves.

Lonmin officials say they hope the signing of a peace accord late Wednesday will bring about “the elimination of violence and intimidation” and get miners back to work after weeks off the job. Officials say the accord paves the way for holding negotiations with unions and a workers’ delegation on their demand for a three-fold pay raise, to about $1,500 a month.

News of the accord caused Lonmin share prices to rally Thursday, rising as much as 8 percent. Lonmin signed the accord, as did the National Union of Mineworkers.

A representative from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, critical to the events, says it has not signed the accord.

“The fact is, we didn’t sign that agreement yesterday. The agreement was signed yesterday but we didn’t sign," treasurer Jimmy Gama reiterated Thursday. "But in terms of the reasons why we did not sign it, we will be holding a conference, a media conference, tomorrow, to issue a statement.”

A man who identified himself as "a workers’ delegate" told local media his group did not sign because “a peace accord will not help us workers in any way.”

A group of workers launched a wildcat strike after union negotiations broke down last month, and there were violent clashes that killed eight workers and two policemen over the course of a week.

When a large crowd gathered near the dusty mine 100 kilometers outside Johannesburg on August 16, police said they felt they were under attack, and turned their weapons against the demonstrators, killing 34 people.

Those shootings rocked South Africa and the global platinum market. Since then, most miners have refused to return to work. Lonmin says about 5 percent of the work force has reported this week.

About 3,000 workers staged a march on Wednesday to reinforce their pay demands, and said they may repeat the action on Monday.

South Africa's Mining Industry

Number of workers: 498,141
Industry deaths: 128
Key commodities mined: Diamonds, gold, platinum, palladium
Real mining GDP: $12.06 billion
Mineral exports: $36.25 billion

Source: Chamber of Mines of South Africa Figures for 2010

Article by Anita Powell, VOA News