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LIMA, May 15 (Reuters) - Southern Copper Corp on Friday announced a 60-day formal “pause” in its stalled $1.4 billion Tia Maria project in a bid to quell deadly protests against it.
The decision follows weeks of unrest in the southern region of Arequipa and a presidential address to the country urging peace and demanding the miner do more to build support for the project.
“In the spirit of recovering the climate of peaceful coexistence the country needs, we ask for the time and terms needed to socialize the project and clear up existing doubts in the next 60 days,” Chief Executive Officer Oscar Gonzales said in a statement.
Peru, the world’s third-leading copper producer, is expected to contribute a significant amount to future global supplies. But mining conflicts have held up billions of dollars worth of investments in recent years.
Tia Maria has faced delays since 2011, when similar rallies by farmers who say the mine will pollute the surrounding agricultural valley also left three dead.
Southern Copper, controlled by Grupo Mexico, has said it will use the highest standards and promised to build a desalinization plant to ease concerns over water supplies in its revised environmental plan, which was approved last year.
A construction permit for the 120,000-tonnes-per-year copper mine was pending when renewed protests broke out March 23.
“Nothing has changed, it should not be the company that makes the decision but the people,” said Helar Valencia, one of four mayors in Arequipa opposed to the project.
President Ollanta Humala said Southern Copper might sue Peru if his government canceled Tia Maria and pressed the miner to explain the benefits of the project to reluctant locals.
“I insist the company manifest its will and execute concrete actions to create a foundation of understanding,” said Humala, a former military officer who has backed the country’s key mining sector since assuming power in 2011.
Tia Maria is the second roll-out of a major mining project sidelined by local protests in Humala’s current term, which ends next year. In 2011, Newmont Mining Corp and Buenaventura put their $4.8 billion Conga project on hold amid violent protests. The project remains stalled.
Earlier on Friday, police announced the arrest of a leading opponent of Tia Maria on allegations he tried to extort the company for $1.5 million. Peru said it was probing whether Southern Copper failed to report the alleged crime.
Reporting by Teresa Cespedes and Marco Aquino; Editing by Christian Plumb and Alan Crosby