* Pinera says central bank has tools to intervene in forex market * Peso has gained nearly 10 pct since beginning of 2012 * Central bank intervened in 2011 to stem currency rise By Antonio De la Jara SANTIAGO, Jan 17 Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Thursday the government was looking closely at the strength in the peso currency, which has gained nearly 10 percent against the dollar since the beginning of last year. Pinera said the central bank had the tools to intervene in the currency exchange market, but it had to look at the peso's long-term fundamentals versus the U.S. dollar. The peso, which ranked among the strongest foreign currency performers last year against the U.S. dollar among 152 currencies tracked by Reuters, has been boosted by Chile's brisk economic growth and healthy prices for its top export copper . It was trading at around 473.30 per dollar early on Thursday, up around 0.3 percent from Wednesday. "Of course we're permanently closely monitoring (the peso)," Pinera told reporters. "The central bank has the ability to intervene if it deems it convenient... But one must look at the exchange rate's long-term fundamentals." The central bank deployed a dollar-purchasing program in 2011 to curb peso strength after it appreciated to its highest level in more than 2-1/2 years at 465.50 per dollar. Officials in emerging markets have blamed loose monetary policies in rich nations for spurring destabilizing flows of hot money to developing nations, which have higher interest rates than the near zero short-term rates in heavyweight economies such as the United States and Japan. Investors chasing returns have also been lured by brisk growth in much of Latin America, as the debt crisis drags on in Europe and the United States' economic recovery remains tepid. Chile's small, copper-dependent economy has mostly fared better than expected despite slowing demand from top trade partner China and fallout from the euro zone's crisis, because of robust internal demand, a tight labor market and strong investments. "Despite the Chilean peso's appreciation, which is a phenomenon linked to a weaker U.S. dollar and has thus happened in many countries, (local) exports continue to grow with much strength and dynamism," Pinera added.