Peru Sends 2,000 Police as Copper Project Protests Spread

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Peru sent police reinforcements to the Islay province as protests against Southern Copper Corp.’s Tia Maria mine project spread to more towns.

About 2,000 officers are being transferred to the coastal province in southern Peru as street protests against the project entered a 47th day, Interior Minister Jose Perez told reporters.

Southern Copper’s plans to build the $1.4 billion mine in the mountains above Islay’s Tambo Valley, about 780 kilometers (485 miles) south of Lima, are opposed by local farmers concerned that water and air pollution will damage their crops. One person died and four police officers were injured in clashes this week as the unrest spread to the seaside town of Mollendo. President Ollanta Humala weighed options for declaring a state of emergency in Islay at a meeting Thursday.

“We don’t rule out any decision that needs to be taken,” Perez said. “We’re prepared for this decision. More police are arriving at this moment.”

Police used a loader to clear boulders and rocks strewn across the highway between the port town of Matarani and Mollendo, where demonstrators set fire to buses Thursday, according to Canal N. Images broadcast by the Lima-based television station showed protesters blockading a highway Friday as tires burned along the side of the road.

Reinforcements, Allegations

The police deployment adds to 2,000 officers sent to the area in March. More than six weeks of clashes have left 166 police injured, 10 of them hospitalized, while 80 civilians have also been hurt, Perez said from a hospital. Two of the officers injured this week are in critical condition, he said.

Protesters beat the officers with rocks and sticks and then attempted to bury them, Lima-based El Comercio reported.

Perez called on the four district mayors of Islay opposed to Tia Maria to open talks with the government and distance themselves from the protest leaders, who he described as “criminals disguised as anti-mining protesters.”

Yamila Osorio, governor of the Arequipa state where Islay is located, said declaring a state of emergency may trigger further violence. Speaking to reporters in Lima on Thursday, Osorio reiterated her call for an international review of Southern Copper’s environmental impact study for Tia Maria, which the government approved last year.

Three people died during protests against the project in 2011. The company later revised its environmental study and said the mine would use desalinated seawater instead of freshwater to allay farmers’ concerns.

Las Bambas

“In the past there was a concern on the use of water that the project will have,” Southern Chief Financial Officer Raul Jacob said on an April 28 call with analysts. “We solved this concern by changing the project scope including desalinated water for the project.”

Southern Copper plans to start construction of Tia Maria this year and complete the mine in 2017, adding to its Cuajone and Toquepala mines in the southernmost area of Peru. The company plans to almost double output to 1.2 million tons.

Freeport-McMoRan Inc. is completing a $4.6 billion expansion to its nearby Cerro Verde copper mine this year while Hong Kong-based MMG Ltd. opens Las Bambas mine in 2016. Anglo American Plc, First Quantum Minerals Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group all plan to develop copper mines in Peru. Anglo plans to make a decision on its Quellaveco project, also in southern Peru, this June, Chief Executive Officer Mark Cutifani said in a Feb. 13 call with analysts.