May 30, 2013 / 6:23 PM / 4 years ago

Protests could halt $5 billion Peru mine project - Buenaventura CEO

By Stephen Eisenhammer
    LONDON, May 30 (Reuters) - Protests in northern Peru over
the $5 billion Conga gold mine make "no sense" and could spell
the end of the project if they succeed in preventing the
draining of a nearby lake, the project's junior partner said on
Thursday.
    Tensions flared up again this week over Newmont's 
proposed mine, with hundreds of protesters taking to the streets
and bringing to an end nine months of relative calm.
 
    "We are working with the best of intentions. If we can go
ahead good, if we cannot that's it... there are no
alternatives," Roque Benavides, chief executive of Newmont's
partner Buenaventura, told Reuters on the sidelines of
a conference in London.  
    Benavides said he did not understand the protests because
the planned transfer of water from Lake Perol to a new reservoir
had not yet begun. 
    "People may complain but it has no sense," he said.
    The construction of the mine, which would be Peru's most
expensive ever, was put on hold last year until local disputes
over water supply could be resolved. Benavides said this
approach had not changed. 
    "We are doing our best. We are not mining, we are following
the main thing which is water first."
    A spokesman at Newmont reiterated the "water first" position
but would not say whether being unable to drain Lake Perol would
be a turning point. 
    In an interview with Reuters last week Benavides said that
construction of the mine would begin if the company could pump
water from Lake Perol into the second of four reservoirs it is
building without sparking broad local opposition.
 
    Lake Perol is one of several alpine lakes in Cajamarca that
would be affected by the proposed mine, which would essentially
extend the life of the nearby Yanacocha mine the two companies
run.
    But protesters told Reuters on Thursday that they would not
give up and that plans to occupy Lake Perol on June 17 had
already been set. 
    "We won't be happy until the government says the project
will not go forward," said community leader Milton Sanchez.  
    President Ollanta Humala has twice shuffled his cabinet
since taking office in 2011 in large part because of violent
protests over Conga.

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