Peru anti-mine roadblocks lifted, government calls talks

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 03, 2011 4:38 PM
Peru anti-mine roadblocks lifted, government calls talks

By Teresa Cespedes

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian protesters opposed to a $4.8 billion gold mine project abandoned roadblocks on Saturday as government officials called weekend talks with regional leaders to try to resolve the conflict.

Earlier this week, U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corp agreed to a government request to stop work temporarily on the Conga mine after the protests turned violent.

The demonstrations in the northern region of Cajamarca, which included roadblocks designed to pressure the government to cancel the largest mining investment in Peru's history, started 10 days ago.

Local political leaders want President Ollanta Humala to stop the gold mine from being built, saying it would replace a string of alpine lakes with artificial reservoirs and cause pollution.

Protesters also have criticized Humala for moving too far to the right and for supporting the project, which would generate thousands of jobs and enormous tax revenues.

"The main access routes have been cleared after police went in and opened up the roads," regional government spokesman Segundo Mata said.

"There's access for vehicles, the situation has got back to normal and vehicles carrying fuel, food and tourists are passing," he said. The blockades around the city of Cajamarca had started to cause shortages of basic goods.

Protest leader Wilfredo Saavedra said mine opponents had agreed to dismantle the blockades. "Today, activity is normal in Cajamarca."

The unrest has challenged Humala, who campaigned on promises to steer more social spending to rural towns to help defuse social conflicts over natural resources while assuring companies they could move ahead with billions of dollars in mining and oil projects in Peru.

The administration of Humala, who has been trying for weeks to mediate in the conflict over water at the proposed mine, called regional officials and community leaders in for more talks on Sunday.

"We call on the people of Cajamarca not to let themselves be dragged into violent actions led by groups that don't want the population to prosper in peace and democracy," a government statement said.

Saavedra said protesters had not been invited to Sunday's proposed meeting with regional leaders.

The Conga project, which Newmont owns with Peruvian precious metals miner Buenaventura, would produce 580,000 to 680,000 ounces of gold a year and open in 2014.

It has gold deposits worth about $15 billion at current prices and sits 13,800 feet high in the Andes, about 600 miles north of Lima.

(Reporting by Teresa Cespedes; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Peter Cooney)