(New throughout, adds CEO’s comments, background)
By Teresa Cespedes
LIMA, June 26 (Reuters) - Southern Copper Corp hopes to reach an agreement with angry neighbors of its planned $1.4 billion Tia Maria mine in Peru, and end deadly protests in time to begin construction of the project before the end of 2015, the company’s chief executive said on Friday.
If it does so, Tia Maria could start producing copper in early 2018, CEO Oscar Gonzalez told Reuters.
Mining conflicts in recent years have held up billions of dollars worth of investment in Peru, the world’s third largest copper producer which is expected to contribute a significant amount to future global supplies.
In mid-May, Southern Copper, which is controlled by Grupo Mexico, announced a 60-day formal “pause” to resolve the festering dispute with locals, who claim the mine will drain rivers and pollute water supplies.
Gonzalez acknowledged that there was scant chance of reaching a deal by mid July, as initially hoped.
A permit for the 120,000-tonnes-per-year copper mine located in Peru’s Arequipa region was pending when renewed protests broke out March 23.
“I hope we get the permit this year,” Gonzalez said in an interview. “If we can start this year, it will be two years of construction and production will begin in early 2018,” he said.
Tia Maria has faced severe delays since 2011. Southern Copper has said it will use the highest standards and promised to build a desalination plant to ease concerns over water supplies in its revised environmental plan, which was approved last year.
Recent protests against Tia Maria have left 4 people dead and hundreds injured.
Gonzalez urged the government to mediate talks between the miner, local community and opponents. (Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Richard Lough and David Gregorio)