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Peru communities sue Occidental for oil operations

(Adds comment from Occidental, plaintiff attorney, byline)

LOS ANGELES, May 10 (Reuters) - Indigenous Peruvian Achuar communities filed a class action suit against Occidental Petroleum Corp.

OXY.N

on Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming oil production has damaged their health and even killed a 6-year-old boy.

Occidental produced oil from 1975 to late 1999 in northeastern Peru near Ecuador, where the Achuar have lived for centuries.

"In its unchecked effort to profit from Amazonian oil, Oxy engaged in irresponsible, reckless, immoral and illegal practices in and around the ancestral and current territory of the Achuar indigenous people," the complaint said.

"These practices were below accepted industry standards, prohibited by law, and Oxy knew they would result in the severe contamination of water and land," it added.

Occidental officials are perplexed by the suit and "inflammatory misstatements" made by three nonprofit groups supporting the Achuar, Occidental Vice President for Communications Richard S. Kline told Reuters on Thursday.

Last autumn, the indigenous people and Peruvian officials signed off on a decision by an independent ombudsman that called for Occidental's successor in Peru, Argentina's Pluspetrol, to spend $200 million in environmental remediation and pledge to update pollution controls.

"At the time, the leaders of the community said 98 percent of their demands had been met," Kline said.

Kline said Pluspetrol in 1999 "assumed all obligations for past, present and future operating conditions."

The plaintiffs said they did not include Pluspetrol in the suit because of its pledge to clean up.

Marco Simons, an attorney with EarthRights International, one of the nonprofits assisting the Achuar, said the "98 percent" claim was in relation to Pluspetrol's role. Simons said transferring operations to Pluspetrol doesn't let Occidental off the hook.

JOHN AND JANE DOE

There are 13 unnamed women and girls and 12 men and boys listed as plaintiffs in the suit. One of the boys is dead, the suit claims, because he drank contaminated water from the Corrientes River.

The boy, "John Doe 12," died before Occidental left Peru, Simons said.

"John Doe 12 had previously been healthy," the suit says. "Shortly after drinking the contaminated river water, John Doe 12 developed fever, stomach pains, and started vomiting and passing blood. (His mother) took him to see a doctor who worked for Oxy, who told her to take John Doe 12 home to die.

"Two days after becoming sick, John Doe 12 died," plaintiffs claimed.

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