Bolivia leader names admiral to replace governor

Carlos Valdez, September 20, 2008

La Paz, Bolivia (AP) – President Evo Morales named a military leader on Saturday to replace the governor of a rebel province who was arrested last week for allegedly organizing an ambush of government supporters that killed 15.

Navy Rear Adm. Landelino Bandeiras was sworn in as interim governor of Pando and said his mission will be to pacify the northern Bolivian state, which has been the site of the worst recent violence in a dispute between Morales and opposition-controlled provinces over natural gas revenues, land reform and a new constitution.

“I hope that the military is on his side to secure peace and tranquility in Pando,” Morales said at the ceremony.

Bandeiras replaces opposition Gov. Leopoldo Fernandez, who is accused of directing a massacre of Morales supporters amid anti-government protests in the Amazonian province.

Anti-Morales protesters have seized government buildings and blocked roads in several lowland provinces that are seeking greater independence from his government.

The support of the military is one of Morales' strengths in the face of the regional opposition, though he initially refrained from sending troops to quell the riots.

Putting a soldier in charge of remote Pando is also a move to seek control of area known for activity by drug traffickers from Bolivia, Brazil and Peru.

Meanwhile, negotiations between Morales and the opposition to solve the crisis continued for a third day, and Morales said he hoped to conclude them this weekend.

On Friday, he agreed to include the eastern provinces' autonomy demands in his proposed new constitution, raising hopes for a solution to the bloody political crisis.

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