By Mercedes Alvaro, Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
QUITO -(Dow Jones)- The Ecuadorian government and a group representing indigenous peoples have agreed to discuss possible changes in the country's mining and water resources legislation, bringing more uncertainty to mining operations in Ecuador.
There were no immediate details on the substance of the discussions or on any potential changes. Mining and water resources management, and more specifically a new mining law enacted in January, are at the root of a conflict that has shaken Ecuador for the past week.
On Monday, members of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE, met with President Rafael Correa and high-level government officials for more than four hours in Quito.
The goal was to restart a dialogue interrupted when violent protests erupted in the Amazon provinces of Morona Santiago and Pastaza. Unrest last week left a member of the Shuar native group dead and 40 police officers wounded.
An initial agreement between the government and CONAIE was expected to bring down roadblocks in the area, but local media reports Tuesday showed some roads in Morona Santiago and Pastaza still blocked.
Humberto Cholango, a leader of Ecuarunari, an arm of CONAIE, said Tuesday that CONAIE will meet during this week with all the Amazon's native communities to inform and consult them about what transpired in the meeting with Correa.
"The roads will be unblocked next week," Cholango said.
Indigenous people are against large-scale mining projects in their lands because "it harms our towns," Cholango said.
Ecuadorian lawmakers in April 2008 froze mining activity, revoking around 80% of mining concessions and suspending the other 20%. The new mining law opened the door for more activity, however.
The government partially lifted the ban in March, allowing Canadian companies Corriente Resources Inc. (ETQ) and Kinross Gold Corp. (KGC) to resume their explorations.
Recently Non-Renewable Resources Minister Germanico Pinto said that the government will begin mineral production contract talks with private companies next year.
Ian Harris, general manager of EcuaCorriente SA, a subsidiary of Corriente Resources, said Tuesday that "it is too early to talk about the changes in the mining law, because we don't know about these changes."
According to Harris, many indigenous groups don't know the law approved in January. He played down the potential for changes in the legislation.
"It will be very useful that the law is discussed to allow indigenous communities to know its real content," Harris said.
Correa has said that his government will maintain mining and oil activities in the Amazon region.
The government also has said the new mining law opens the door to a potentially lucrative and underdeveloped industry in the country and that the country's mineral potential could amount to about $110 billion.
Local units of Corriente Resources, Kinross Gold Corp., International Mineral Corp. (IMZ.T), Iamgold Corp. (IAG), Trilliant Exploration, Mariana Resources Ltd. (MARL.LN), and others have mining concessions in Ecuador.
Ecuador's current mining output is minimal. Large-scale projects have generally centered on nonmetallic products such as cement.