June 17, 2008 / 2:31 AM / 11 years ago

Colombia truckers strike over fuel costs

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian truck drivers went on strike on Monday to protest high fuel prices, tolls and freight payments, but the government said the shutdown would have only limited impact as many drivers kept working.

Colombian truckers joined demonstrations by transporters from Europe to Asia who are demanding help in managing costs as world oil prices soar to record highs.

President Alvaro Uribe planned to meet with the striking drivers on Monday to work out an agreement to end the protest. But the government said so far the strike had a minimal effect on deliveries to ports and supply centres.

The Colombian Truckers Association said around 140,000 vehicles had joined the strike, which started at midnight on Sunday after talks with the transport ministry fell apart. But the government disputed those figures.

“We will start to feel the impact of this from Tuesday onwards,” truck drivers’ association president Nemesio Castillo told reporters.

Freight agreements, fuel costs, toll prices and access to credits were among the points the truckers wanted to address with the government, he said.

Coffee exporters in the world’s No. 3 grower had sent some deliveries to port early in anticipation and expect no impact if the strike lasted three or four days, said Jorge Lozano, president of the Asoexport coffee exporters association.

Transport Minister Andres Uriel Gallego said reports from early morning showed the strike had limited impact and no roadways were blocked by protesters. The Pacific port of Buenaventura had some reduced traffic, he said.

“Ports on the coast in Santa Marta, Cartagena and Barranquilla are absolutely normal with some reductions in Buenaventura and fuel transportation is normal. So the strike so far has had a minimum impact,” he said.

Police said they had received no reports of blockades and truckers insisted on a peaceful protest. The agriculture ministry said it had no reports of disruptions in food deliveries as suppliers had stocked up before the strike.

“The situation in Colombia for all of us drivers is critical,” driver Segundo Imbaqui said in Bogota. “A truck is no longer a worthwhile business.”

(Additional reporting by Alisha Laventure)

Reporting by Patrick Markey, editing by Philip Barbara

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