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Members of the Tahltan First Nation and other protesters occupy a drilling rig operated by Fortune Minerals Ltd, who pulled out from Sacred Headwaters, near Mt. Kapplan.

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Faced with an escalating protest by Tahltan band members Fortune Minerals Ltd. has cut short field work on a massive coal deposit in northern British Columbia.

The company announced its plans to withdraw from near Mt. Klappan, in an area known as the Sacred Headwaters, only hours after Tahltan members expanded a six week old blockade to include a work camp.

A Tahltan spokeswoman said the protestors were going to let workers leave, but they wouldn't be allowed to return down the access road, south of Dease Lake.

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In a statement the company said it remains committed to developing the coal deposit, but is stepping back for now to allow the Tahltan and the provincial government to hold talks.

"While all of Fortune's activities at the project site are focused on gathering necessary information that will be used in a BC environmental assessment process, and are duly authorized by permits issued by the BC Government, the company has faced disruptive and damaging protests," Fortune said in a statement. "The company remains 100% committed to developing the project and Fortune will voluntarily cease its summer field program activities and withdraw from the project site for several months to allow the Tahltan and BC Governments to continue their talks."

Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee said in a statement the protest expanded to include the camp after a meeting with B.C. Mines Minister failed to resolve the issue, Saturday.

"Our people spoke clearly and passionately with Bill Bennett," said Ms. McPhee. "They were clear that they want this land protected and that no coal mine should be developed in the Klappan. They told him that they were willing to be arrested if that is what it took."

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