Peru's Fujimori takes tough stance on Southern Copper Tia Maria project

LIMA, May 18 (Reuters) - Peruvian presidential contender Keiko Fujimori said it would take “many years” for Southern Copper Corp to regain the trust of farmers, which she said is part of the community support she considers critical to developing the company’s $1.4 billion Tia Maria copper project.

The center-right candidate also said she would ban mining companies that pollute the environment from operating or slap fines on them, in some of her toughest comments yet for the key sector in the Andean country.

Fujimori, the 40-year-old daughter of imprisoned ex-president Alberto Fujimori, has been neck-and-neck with economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in most polls ahead of the June 5 run-off election.

Tia Maria has been on hold for the past year after protests by locals who fear the 120,000-tonne-per-year proposed mine would pollute the environment or disturb farming.

Fujimori said Southern Copper had misled communities by initially saying Tia Maria would not impact groundwater supplies, and later, following protests in 2011, promising to build a desalinization plant.

“That means they were going to use groundwater and they were going to affect farmers,” Fujimori said in broadcast comments to reporters in Arequipa, the region where Tia Maria would be built.

“Farmers in the Tambo Valley of Cocachacra obviously feel deep distrust, and it will take many years for the company to regain that trust. For me it’s fundamental that an investment project be in harmony with communities,” Fujimori said.

Kuczynski has also said community support is needed before a new mine can be built.

Southern Copper, controlled by Grupo Mexico SAB de CV , did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The president of Southern Copper, Oscar Gonzalez, told reporters in videotaped comments last month that he would press for a construction permit for Tia Maria from the government of President Ollanta Humala in the last two months of his term.

Humala’s energy and mines ministry said in December that the government would probably not issue the permit because of stiff local opposition to the project.

Peru, a leading exporter of copper, gold, silver and zinc, is expected to supply a growing share of the world’s copper supplies in coming years, but frequent disputes over mining and water threaten to hold up billions in investments.

Fujimori said that if elected, she will ensure water goes to Peruvians before mining companies.

“Water is prioritized for drinking first, then agriculture and livestock, and then all other activities related to man, and I’d say that in last place for mining,” Fujimori said.

Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Leslie Adler