UPDATE 1-Glencore's Mutanda mine in Congo shuts a month early

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GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nov 26 (Reuters) - G lencore’s Mutanda mine in Democratic Republic of Congo suspended operations prematurely on Monday due to a lack of sulphuric acid, a key input for copper and cobalt extraction.

The suspension comes more than a month before the world’s biggest cobalt mine was set to go into care and maintenance.

CEO Ivan Glasenberg decided in August to suspend Mutanda from the year-end, for an expected two years. He said falling cobalt prices, increased costs, and higher taxes had dented the mine’s economic viability.

The company’s wholly-owned Mutanda Mining (MUMI) subsidiary notified employees of the suspension in a letter seen by Reuters, whose contents a Glencore spokesman confirmed.

“It is not expected for acid to be available in the market for the foreseeable future and therefore MUMI will now progress onto a care & maintenance program slightly earlier than originally communicated,” the letter from management, dated Nov. 25, said.

Mutanda Mining, based in DRC’s southern Katanga region, said it had shut down mining and processing operations and announced the cancellation of certain night shift duties due to a “depleted” supply of acid.

Access to sulphuric acid has been a challenge for mining companies in the vast central African country with unreliable infrastructure.

In February around 20 people died when a truck carrying acid to the Mutanda mine collided with two other vehicles. (Reporting by Fiston Mahamba, Additional reporting by Helen Reid, Editing by Louise Heavens and David Evans)