April 2, 2019 / 10:23 PM / a year ago

Peru community rejects talks over copper mine blockade - indigenous leader

LIMA (Reuters) - An indigenous community in Peru that has blocked roads to Chinese miner MMG Ltd’s Las Bambas copper mine has decided not to negotiate with the government further until the group’s lawyers are freed from jail, the head of the community, said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators block a road access to a copper mine during a protest in Fuerabamba, Apurimac, Peru, March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mitra Taj

The government had held a meeting with community leader Gregorio Rojas, in the capital Lima on Sunday and offered to terminate emergency measures authorizing the use of military force in the region in exchange for an end to the blockades.

Rojas travelled to southern Peru to discuss the proposal with members of his Fuerabamba community, which has blocked MMG from using a stretch of road on its farmlands since early February in a dispute over compensation.

But the community was opposed to the latest offer, Rojas said.

“They told me that there cannot be any agreement ... because our lawyers are not free. When they are free there will be dialogue,” Rojas told Canal N after the group’s meeting. “That’s what they’ve told me. The people decide, not me.”

The community’s attorneys, the brothers Jorge and Frank Chavez, were jailed along with Rojas and another attorney earlier this month on allegations they organised the road blockade to extort MMG.

Rojas was released without charges on Friday, and told Reuters he was open to talking with the government about how to end the dispute.

But the Chavez brothers remained in jail, and prosecutors have asked a judge to hold them in pre-trial detention for up to three years while they are under investigation.

Rojas said the men were innocent. “We need them, like you need an eye or a foot,” he said.

The blockade has halted exports from Las Bambas, which produces about 400,000 tonnes of copper per year, accounting for about 2 percent of global copper production and 1 percent of Peru’s gross domestic product.

Copper prices slipped on Tuesday in part on expectations the Peruvian government would be able to end the impasse.

Reporting by Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; editing by James Dalgleish and G Crosse

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