October 10, 2014 / 9:01 PM / 5 years ago

Newmont to pursue support for Peru gold project despite election

LIMA, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Newmont Mining Corp’s Peruvian unit said on Friday that it will keep pushing for local support for its stalled gold mine in the highland region of Cajamarca after a jailed opponent of the project was easily re-elected to lead the region.

Newmont shelved the $5 billion proposed Conga mine in 2011 after a wave of protests spearheaded by Cajamarca’s president, Gregorio Santos, who won a second four-year term in Sunday’s regional election.

The latest results of the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) handed Santos with 44.21 percent of the vote with 98 percent of ballots counted, more than 20 points ahead of his nearest rival. An ONPE official said the remaining votes would be counted next week.

“We express our interest in continuing to invest in Peru and especially the Cajamarca region,” the company said in an open letter addressed to the people of Cajamarca.

The Colorado-based miner said last year it would reevaluate its proposed $5 billion Conga mine after the election. Its local unit, Yanacocha, said it would work with all elected officials in Cajamarca.

“We renew our commitment to continue working to achieve social acceptance for the projects we maintain in the region,” it said.

Peruvian miner Buenaventura , as Newmont’s junior partner in Yanacocha, owns 43.65 percent in Conga.

Conga was initially expected to offset dwindling reserves from a nearby gold mine that the two companies have operated for more than two decades.

Santos and his followers have resisted several efforts to secure local backing for Conga.

“Yanacocha is running out” of gold, said analyst Hector Collantes with Credicorp. “And it has become increasingly difficult to see Conga replacing it.”

Santos has spent the past three months in prison pending a corruption investigation. He has denied all wrongdoing.

His political party depicted his imprisonment as a ruse to remove him from power in order to push Conga - a campaign strategy that several analysts said was successful.

Hilario Porfirio Medina, Santos’ incoming vice president, will likely govern for him while he remains behind bars.

“It would be outrageous if the project was carried out,” Medina told Reuters. “With this vote, the future of Cajamarca is clear.”

Opponents say Conga will ruin water supplies for surrounding peasant towns by building the mine on top of Andean lakes.

The company has said it is building reservoirs for community use to ensure water for communities year-round. (Editing by Richard Lough and Marguerita Choy)

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