March 22, 2019 / 6:26 PM / 3 months ago

Leader of community blocking road to Peru copper mine arrested -source

LIMA, March 22 (Reuters) - Peruvian police have arrested the leader of an indigenous community that has blocked a road used by Chinese miner MMG Ltd to transport copper from its Las Bambas mine, a source in the interior ministry said on Friday.

Gregorio Rojas, president of the Fuerabamba community, was arrested on a court order in Lima late on Thursday, along with Fuerabamba’s lawyers, the brothers Frank and Jorge Chavez, the source said on condition of anonymity. Prosecutors believe the three organized the road blockade to force MMG to pay them some $30 million, the source added.

It was not immediately clear who the legal representatives were for Rojas and the Chavez’ brothers.

The Peruvian prosecutors’ office and national police department declined to provide immediate comment. Local newspaper El Comercio reported on the arrests on Friday without citing sources.

Fuerabamba has said that MMG, controlled by China Minmetals Corp Ltd, built the unpaved road on its farmland without permission, and that the government of President Martin Vizcarra illegally made it a national highway last year to help MMG. The company and the government deny the allegations.

The arrests came as talks between the three parties reached a stalemate. The government had demanded an end to the blockade before discussing the community’s demands.

MMG said it respects decisions by Peru’s judicial system and remained open to dialogue. It reiterated that the road blockade has halted its exports of copper but that production continues at the mine.

Las Bambas is one of Peru’s biggest copper mines, with about 385,000 tonnes in output last year.

Fuerabamba, a Quechua-speaking community that once farmed and herded animals in Peru’s southern Andes, was relocated to a new town earlier this decade so Las Bambas could be built.

Fuerabamba has repeatedly accused MMG of failing to fulfill its commitments in the relocation agreement. In early February, community members camped out along a stretch of the road to block trucks carrying MMG’s copper concentrates from reaching the port of Matarani on Peru’s Pacific coast.

Rojas told Reuters this month that Fuerabamba had asked the company for 40 million soles ($12 million) for rights to use the road.

Former Fuerabamba President Alfonso Vargas said by phone that the blockade would continue. (Reporting by Marco Aquino; Editing by Richard Chang)

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