JOHANNESBURG, Aug 16 (Reuters) - South African police
ordered thousands of illegally striking miners armed with
machetes and sticks to lay down their weapons and leave Lonmin's
Marikana platinum mine on Thursday or face an
assault by security forces.
"Today is unfortunately D-day," police spokesman Dennis
Adriao said. "It is an illegal gathering. We've tried to
negotiate and we'll try again but if that fails, we'll obviously
have to go to a tactical phase."
Ten people, including two policemen, have died in nearly a
week of fighting between rival worker factions at the mine, 100
km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, the latest platinum
plant to be hit by fallout from an eight-month union turf war.
On Wednesday, up to 3,000 police officers, including members
of an elite, camouflage-wearing riot control unit backed by
helicopters and horses, confronted several thousand protesting
rock-drill operators massed on a rocky outcrop near the mine.
There were no clashes although police described the
situation as tense.
The unrest forced Marikana's London-headquartered owner
Lonmin to halt production this week at all its South African
operations, which account for 12 percent of global platinum
The Marikana strikers have not made their demands explicit,
although much of the bad blood stems from a turf war between the
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the dominant union for the
last two decades, and the newer Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (AMCU), which is on a big recruitment push.
At least three people were killed in a similar round of
fighting in January that led to a six-week closure of the
world's largest platinum mine, run by Impala Platinum.
That helped push the platinum price up 15 percent.
South Africa is home to 80 percent of the world's known
platinum reserves, but rising power and labour costs and a sharp
drop in the price of the precious metal this year has left many
mines struggling to keep their heads above water.
(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Jon Hemming)