• ACI Russia

08/04/1998 09:59:00 Russian govt, miners mull compromise to end strike

By Denis Dyomkin

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Russian authorities

struggled with long-unpaid miners in the easternmost island of

Sakhalin on Tuesday to forge a compromise to end an 11-day

blockade of the Pacific region's key power station.

But a spokesman for the Sakhalin plant said far from all

miners were ready to accept the latest government offers aimed

at defusing a protest that could destroy the regional economy.

The island has had to switch to an emergency regime of

14-hour daily blackouts, causing much of the annual peak haul


fresh salmon and caviar to rot, unrefrigerated.

The local authorities offered the miners 10 million roubles

($1.5 million), or two months worth of back wages, if they

would free up the railroad to the plant.

"Half the miners agreed, but the other half is

categorically opposed and demands full payment of the debt,

some 80 million roubles," the spokesman said. Many of the

miners have not been paid since December.

"The negotiations are continuing. We are waiting on needles

and pins, because the power station is on the verge of shutting

down altogether."

Itar-Tass news agency reported earlier on Tuesday that the

miners had agreed temporarily to allow small shipments of coal

to reach the plant to prevent a complete shut down. But the

spokesman for the plant said he knew of no such firm agreement.

Sakhalin governor Igor Farkhutdinov was in Moscow for

meetings with influential Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov,

seeking a solution to the standoff.

Russia is trying to raise tax collection and cut spending

after winning a bail-out from international lenders last month.

In the Chelyabinsk region in the Ural mountains, governor

Pyotr Sumin has taken emergency safety precautions in case a

blockade of the trans-Siberian railroad threatened to cut off

fuel to a major nuclear treatment plant, a spokesman said.

Coal miners there have been blocking a rail junction for

more than a week.

The spokesman said the new measures, which primarily

involved placing health and security staff on heightened alert,

did not call for force to be used to clear striking miners from

the rail tracks.

In the past week Chelyabinsk authorities have paid out an

additional 22.5 million roubles due to the miners, the

spokesman said. Authorities were also launching criminal

investigations to see if money due the miners had been

embezzled by corrupt managers or middlemen.

Russian industry has been plagued by debt, with companies

failing to pay bills to one another or to the government. Many

companies have withheld wages from their employees.

The coal industry has been particularly hard hit. Many

mines are inefficient and costly, and corrupt middlemen have

been known to siphon off profits before miners can get paid.

A miners' picket in front of the Russian government

headquarters in Moscow has become a rallying point for

ultra-nationalists and Communists.

President Boris Yeltsin, who himself was brought to power

partly on a wave of coal mine strikes in 1991, has warned that

Russian politics could get more unstable as autumn approaches.

040956 GMT aug 98 <

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