Lima in stalemate with towns blocking road to copper mine

October 19, 2016 2:46 PM EDT

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LIMA (Reuters) - Peru's government failed to restart talks with residents of remote Andean towns blocking a road to one of the country's biggest copper mines on Wednesday, as protesters demanded a meeting with President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

Kuczynski, who took office July 28, said when he was a candidate that he would travel to far-flung towns to personally resolve disputes over mining in the world's third biggest copper producer. But Prime Minister Fernando Zavala said Kuczynski would not travel to the highland region of Apurimac while residents continued occupying a road leading to MMG Ltd's Las Bambas mine.

"We're open to dialogue, what we can't have is dialogue threatened by forceful actions," Zavala told a news conference.

A 42-year-old farmer was shot dead on Friday in clashes with police who were trying to end a weeklong blockage of the road by locals speaking in the indigenous language Quechua who say trucks transporting copper concentrates from the Chinese-owned mine are polluting their lands.

Peru's Interior Ministry has said two colonels ordered last week's crackdown without authorization days before officials were scheduled to meet with protesters.

Police and public prosecutors are investigating the protester's death.

On Wednesday, protesters placed the dead protester's coffin on the road as they refused to meet with the government's negotiating team, demanding instead a visit from Kuczynski, said Artemio Solano with the ombudsman's office.

Three protesters were also killed in clashes over Las Bambas last year.

"Unfortunately, trust has been lost," Challhuahuacho Mayor Antolin Chipani said on local broadcaster RPP. "We've tried dialogue in the past but it's failed and only brought us blood."

The stalemate is a first test of the negotiating skills of Kuczynski's three-month-old centrist government, which has inherited scores of disputes over mining, oil drilling and land rights in the Andes and Amazon.

The opposition-controlled Congress summoned members of Kuczynski's cabinet for questioning on Wednesday, slamming their inability to prevent the conflict's violent turn.

MMG said in a statement that production at Las Bambas continued but that "logistics have been temporarily disrupted."

The company has suspended all transportation of minerals from the mine since Friday, said Solano.

The mine had previously planned to use a pipeline instead of a road to move its minerals to port.

Peru's economy has been recovering this year thanks to surging output from Las Bambas and other new mines as domestic demand remains weak.

Las Bambas produced 35,000 tonnes of copper in August, official data show.

(Reporting By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by Alan Crosby and Sandra Maler)



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