Peru investigating deadly Las Bambas mine protests

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Peru's government said it is investigating police handling of protests against China Minmetals' US$8.3bn Las Bambas copper mine after clashes left one person dead.

Police colonels in Apurímac region, without consulting their superior officers, decided to quell protests along a road used by the mining company, interior minister Carlos Basombrío said.

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Las Bambas began operating at the start of the year.

A villager from Pumamarca was shot dead as protestors gathered about 20km from the mine, he said. Ballistics tests will be conducted to find out which of the 150 police at the scene opened fire, Basombrío said.

"It hurts me deeply that this has occurred. It was my worst day as a minister to find out about this," Basombrío said in broadcast comments.

"Both officers have committed serious misdemeanors and could be punished by being discharged from the institution," he added, referring to the two colonels who acted without consulting senior officials.

The violence comes a year after protests over the same road – used by hundreds of mining trucks – left four dead and 15 injured in September 2015. A slurry pipeline, which would have reduced the number of trucks using the road, was originally planned but never built.

China Minmetals unit MMG said it was committed to dialogue with local communities, adding it was monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of its workers.

The company "is deeply concerned that a community member has died and a number of police have been injured as the result of a community conflict," MMG said in a statement. "While operations continue, logistics have been temporarily disrupted by ongoing community blockages."

The 140,000t/d capacity mine, which has 2,007Mt in resources and 1,079Mt in reserves, is designed to produce 450,000t/y copper, 5,000t/y molybdenum, 90,000oz/y gold and 450,000oz/y silver.

Demonstrations against mining projects in Peru are nothing new, as protests left at least 60 dead during the previous government of Ollanta Humala, but it was the first conflict-related death since President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski took office on July 28. There were 207 ongoing social conflicts in September, according to Peru's ombudsman's office, which also registered 108 individual protest actions.

Kuczynski, a former energy and mines minister, has said his government will focus on community relations in a bid to accelerate mining projects. The government will invest in basic services such as water, health and education in remote rural areas to ease opposition to mining projects, according to the energy and mines ministry (MEM).