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Deadly clashes at South African mine site

Nine people have died since Sunday as clashes between two rival unions fighting over members at a leading platinum mine in northern South Africa continue. Police have stepped up forces to try to quell the violence.

A file photo dated 17 January 2008 showing a general view of the platinum mine operated by Lonmin near Rustenburg, 100km north-west of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Südafrika Platinmine Arbeitskampf

Seven Lonmin employees were killed, while two law enforcement officials sent to calm unionists were hacked to death in the violence, which began as a union initiated strike on Friday. Police shot and killed three protestors saying they were acting in self-defense.

South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), one of the country's most powerful labor organizations, blamed a rival and smaller trade union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), for the fighting at the mine.

Lonmin, in a statement issued on Tuesday, described the "serious and ongoing outbreak of violence" as a dispute between the rival unions.

The breakaway AMCU was reportedly trying to recruit members to the group on assurances of large pay increases.

Workers install razor wire at a plant at the Lonmin Platinum mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, Tuesday Aug. 14, 2012.

Security measures have been boosted at the mine after the outbreak

NUM members reportedly saw the recruitment drive as a means of intimidating and blackmailing workers. The AMCU denied any responsibility, but would not comment further on the hostilities.

Stepping up forces

Heavily armed police are patrolling the mine site, while helicopters circle over the area in an attempt to ease tensions. Several military trucks were seen entering the complex northwest of Johannesburg.

Law enforcement spokesperson Dennis Adriao said that "various police units were deployed" at the mine near Rustenburg in the North-west of the province, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the capital, Johannesburg.

"We continue to speak to the unions to appeal for calm, and to totally support the police and government in their efforts to ensure appropriate resources are deployed to protect life, which must be paramount," said Lonmin chief executive Ian Farmer in a statement.

Law enforcement officials are pursuing civilian suspects, some armed with traditional weapons such as long knives or spears who took part in the fighting. During the clashes, unionists took police officers' weapons and made off with them, a spokesman said.

South Africa's police chief Riah Phiyega met with Lonmin management on Tuesday to discuss how best to avert any further violence, Adriao said.

Company and union officials on Tuesday said that workers failed to show up for work as the sitaution remained volatile.

"There is no work going on. The situation is very tense. Nine people have died. If people don't feel safe they won't go to work," Tanya Chakanza, head of Lonmin investor relations told news agency AFP.

South Africa has 80 percent of the world's known platinum reserves. Production at the mine site has halted following the violence.

As the violence continued, Lonmin shares fell 4.45 percent on the London Stock Exchange.

The mining sector in South Africa is the largest private employer, whose workforce is amongst the world's most unionized.

jlw / msh (dpa, Retuers, AP)