* Mine resumes limited operations
* Collahuasi declared force majeure
* Mine eyes normal operational levels in coming days
* Subcontractors to forge on with protest from nearby city (Recasts, adds mine resuming limited operations)
By Antonio de la Jara and Fabian Cambero
SANTIAGO, May 12 (Reuters) - Chile's giant Collahuasi copper mine said on Wednesday it had resumed limited operations a day after protesting subcontractors lifted a blockade, and hoped to return to normal levels in coming days.
The mine said earlier on Wednesday it had declared force majeure, a contract clause that enables it to default on delivery obligations, because of the protest.
Subcontractors left the mine on Tuesday night to avoid clashes with police. The Collahuasi mine produces 3.3 percent of the world's mined copper.
"Collahuasi started to operate in a restricted way during the afternoon ... and expects to return to normal operational levels in coming days," Collahuasi spokeswoman Bernardita Fernandez said in a statement. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ ANALYSIS-Chile copper may take hit on protest [ID:nN11103356] TIMELINE of Chile's major mining strikes [ID:nN1199411] FACTBOX of Chile copper labor contracts [ID:nLDE60A1JH] FACTBOX on Chile's giant Collahuasi mine [ID:nN1198815] Map: Chile top copper mines link.reuters.com/zad85j ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
Collahuasi, which produced 535,000 tonnes of copper last year, was forced to halt operations on Saturday, a day after hundreds of subcontractors blocked access to the mine with burning tires and rocks to demand better working conditions and pay.
Subcontractors vowed to push on with their protest, but from the northern city of Iquique.
Port officials at the mine's exporting port of Puerto Patache said that shipments had not been affected by the protest, and that a ship was waiting to be loaded with copper from the mine.
"What has happened at Collahuasi has not affected (shipments) because the cargo was already ready for loading," an official at the port of Puerto Patache told Reuters, asking not to be named in line with policy.
He said a ship was waiting to be loaded with the latest export cargo.
"There is copper," he added. However no details on Collahuasi's stock levels were immediately available.
Subcontractor union leader and spokesman Alejandro Allende said the subcontract workers had moved their protest, now in its sixth day, to the city of Iquique where they would hold internal talks to define their action plan.
Allende said the regional government had offered to act as a mediator in any eventual resumption of talks with the company.
"None of our (subcontractor) workers will go up to Collahuasi," he said, adding he did not think Collahuasi would be able to normalize operations within 24 hours because subcontractors fulfilled key roles throughout the production process.
Global miners Anglo American (AAL.L) and Xstrata XTA.L each own a 44 percent stake in Collahuasi. A Japanese consortium led by Mitsui & Co (8031.T) is a minority stakeholder.
Mining companies face a growing risk of more protests if they fail to raise benefits and improve conditions for thousands of part-time workers who are needed for operations in a country that extracts a third of the world's mined copper.
In 2007 and 2008, sometimes violent subcontractor protests cut output at the world's top producer Codelco, forcing the state giant to pay higher wages and improve working conditions. (With reporting by Simon Gardner)