December 2, 2016 / 2:41 PM / 3 years ago

Peru's Kuczynski plans to visit town opposed to copper project

LIMA/PARACAS,Peru (Reuters) - Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said on Friday that he plans to travel to the Andean town of Cocachacra to discuss a drought and Southern Copper Corp’s $1.4 billion Tia Maria copper project, which has been stalled since 2015 due to local opposition.

Peru's president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski attends the Thomson Reuters Economic and Financial Forum in Lima, Peru November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

In an interview with local broadcaster RPP, Kuczynski said he has spoken with the town’s mayor and hopes to use a visit to the southern region of Arequipa “not to push propaganda, but to listen to the people in the valley.”

Kuczynski has previously said he thinks he might be able to ease opposition to Tia Maria by building irrigation projects in a valley where farmers fear the proposed 120,000-tonne-per-year mine will use up water supplies and pollute their fields.

Three anti-Tia Maria protesters were killed in clashes with police in 2011 and three more died in similar unrest last year, during the government of former President Ollanta Humala.

Kuczynski has promised to personally visit far-flung provinces to build support for mining investments in Peru, where global miners often operate alongside rural towns that lack running water, paved roads and health clinics.

Energy and Mines Minister Gonzalo Tamayo said the government has asked Arizona-based Southern Copper, controlled by Grupo Mexico, to do more to improve community relations in Arequipa.

“If they continue doing the same thing we probably won’t reach” a resolution to the Tia Maria conflict, Tamayo told reporters at Paracas without offering specifics.

Humala’s government had also said that Southern Copper had not done enough in Arequipa to build support for the project.

Southern Copper did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The company on its website says it has hosted more than 200 informative talks on Tia Maria and a townhall meeting in Cocachacra that drew 1,600 people.

Disputes over mining in Peru, a leading producer of copper, zinc and gold, has blocked billions in investments and left more than a dozen dead in clashes with police in the past decade.

Earlier this year local protests disrupted exports from MMG Ltd’s Las Bambas copper pit and suspended operations at HudBay Mineral Inc’s Constancia mine.

Kuczynski also told RPP that one person died in a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck southern Peru on Thursday.

Reporting by Mitra Taj in Lima and Marco Aquino in Paracas; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Leslie Adler

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