January 13, 2009 / 11:33 PM / 11 years ago

Peru protesters say tortured by police, miner

LIMA, Jan 13 (Reuters) - People who protested in 2005 against a massive copper project in northern Peru now owned by Chinese miner Zijin on Tuesday aired allegations they were tortured by police and mine personnel, a day after the prime minister denounced the events.

The protesters said at least 28 members from their communities, isolated outposts in the northern district of Piura, were kidnapped and brutally beaten after peacefully protesting against the development of the $1.4 billion Rio Blanco mine in August 2005.

The mining development is run by Monterrico Metals MNA.L of Britain, which was bought by Zijin Mining Group (2899.HK), China’s second-largest gold miner, in 2007.

The allegations lingered until this week, when a Peruvian human rights group published photos of the victims that were apparently taken at the mining camp. Many were bloodied, with hands tied behind their backs and plastic hoods over their heads as armed men stood guard.

“I felt all my rights were violated ... it was truly torture,” said Elizabeth Cunya, who along with another community member and a local journalist told a news conference about three days of beatings by police and the company’s security team that left one person dead. One photo showed police officers posing with underwear taken from two women.

After the images were published, Prime Minister Yehude Simon promised to personally review the torture allegations.

“As a state, we cannot allow abuse. Police, business leaders, workers — no one can use force to impose their ideas on others,” Simon told reporters.

Ronald Gamarra, head of the National Coordinating Committee for Human Rights, which has lodged a formal complaint, said the company and the police, who often moonlight for private companies to make up for low wages, must be held responsible. The police have not responded to the allegations.

Gamarra said the photos, which were likely taken by police, were sent to his group by an anonymous whistle-blower.

DID THE MINER KNOW?

Though foreign companies and residents in poor mountain towns often argue about mining projects in Peru, one of the world’s biggest minerals exporters, the case of Rio Blanco has been especially bitter.

Many residents worry the massive mining project will wreck the environment and damage key agricultural lands.

In a 2007 popular vote, nearby communities overwhelmingly said they did not want the mine developed.

Rio Blanco, which was to start producing in 2011 but has faced repeated delays, would mine some 200,000 tonnes of copper concentrate a year.

Andrew Bristow, investor relations manager at Monterrico, declined to comment on the merit of the torture case, but said it was: "One of an enormous number of things that have happened in terms of opposition activity to the project." (Photos of the alleged torture can be viewed here: www.dhperu.org/) (See also: [ID:nLD665800]) (Editing by Terry Wade and Cynthia Osterman)

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