* Protests over supposed pollution from Cerro Matoso
* Mining minister calls on protestors to end blockades
* BHP Billiton-owned mine shut until can operate normally
By Luis Jaime Acosta and Peter Murphy
BOGOTA, Oct 9 Cerro Matoso, the world's No. 2
ferronickel producer owned by multinational BHP Billiton
and located in Colombia, said it has temporarily shut
its mine after two weeks of protests by indigenous groups,
halting 4 percent of world output.
The impact of the stoppage on the nickel market is likely to
be subdued amid a global surplus of nickel that has caused
prices to tumble about a quarter in the last year but adds to
near-constant disruption in Colombia's mining sector this year.
The London-traded nickel contract ended 1.7 percent
lower at $13,660 per tonne on Wednesday.
Cerro Matoso took the decision to close its mine for
workers' safety, it said in a statement, adding that protesters
were demanding "monetary indemnification". It did not say why,
merely that the dispute could only be resolved in the courts.
"This implies that from now there will be no ferronickel
production or associated activities ... until conditions enable
the company to operate normally," it said.
A mining ministry source said the protesters were demanding
compensation for alleged harm to their health from pollution
caused by the open-pit project which the source said generates
about $185,000 a day for the government in royalties.
Mining minister Amylkar Acosta has called on protestors to
stop blockades at the site, a ministry statement said.
An executive at Russia's Norilsk Nickel told
Reuters on Monday he expected it would take about two years for
global nickel prices to rise significantly, with about a third
of global output now produced without profit.
Cerro Matoso in northern Colombia is the world's second
biggest ferronickel producer combining a lateritic nickel ore
deposit with a low cost ferronickel smelter. The smelter
produces high-purity, low-carbon ferronickel granules.
Colombia's ferronickel production surpassed 47,000 tonnes in
2012, according to National Mining Agency data.
The company said steps it was taking to prevent damage to
its electric furnaces were not sustainable for long and would
eventually result in irreversible damage if operations are
disrupted for long enough.
Colombia's mining sector has had a turbulent year especially
in the extraction of coal with strikes at its top two coal
producers, joint-venture Cerrejon in which BHP Billiton has a
stake, and U.S.-owned Drummond as well as logistics
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