BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) - A Bosnian shoe factory will produce special shoes made of goat skin as a Christmas present for the Chilean miners who were rescued this month after spending 69 days deep underground.
"This will be a symbolic message that the miners should start a new life in new shoes," said Marinko Umicevic, the director of the Bema factory based in the northern town of Banja Luka.
The widely watched rescue of 33 miners stuck for more than two months in a hot, dark tunnel has made them global media stars, and they have been offered jobs and gifts and invitations for holidays from across the world.
"The only thing we could do to show these brave people they were not abandoned and that we have heard about their sufferings even here, was to produce for them special shoes," Umicevic told Reuters.
"We shall produce top-quality shoes made of goat skin and will not save on the material," he said, adding the idea has been embraced by the factory's 700 workers.
The Chilean embassy in Budapest will provide the shoe sizes for all miners and their wives, as well as for Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and his wife, Umicevic said.
"They loved the idea. We shall start the production next month so that they can get the shoes by the Christmas."
Several Chilean soldiers are still stationed in Bosnia as part of EU-led peacekeeping mission EUFOR. International military forces have guarded peace in Bosnia since the end of its 1992-95 war.
"Few people in my country know about Bosnia-Herzegovina and it's lovely that its citizens have watched with so much attention all events surrounding the miners' rescue, and showed solidarity," said Karlos Karkatio, a Chilean officer serving with EUFOR.
The Bema initiative comes at a time when the factory, which has been hit hard by the global economic crisis, is barely surviving on loans clinched with German and Italian shoe factories.
Reporting by Gordana Katana, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Paul Casciato