Peru detains leaders of protests over Newmont mine

LIMA, (Reuters) – Peru’s counterterrorism police yesterday detained two leaders of protests that have stalled  Newmont Mining’s $4.8 billion Conga gold mine project, in a  widening crackdown by President Ollanta Humala.
Wilfredo Saavedra, the leader of the Environment Defense  Front of Cajamaraca, and Milton Sanchez, the head of a civic  association, said they were detained after addressing a panel  in Peru’s Congress.    Sources at Dircote, Peru’s counterterrorism police, said  the two were detained for “investigatory reasons.”

Saavedra – who once spent a decade in prison for belonging  to the violent left-wing Tupac Amaru insurgency and has said  his past shouldn’t be used against him – has emerged as a  high-profile leader in an environmental dispute that has tested  Humala’s resolve to govern as a centrist who can simultaneously  help Peru’s poor and attract foreign investment.

“We had given a talk about mining and the Conga project in  Congress and the police detained us when we left. We don’t know  why,” Sanchez said.
Humala, a former army officer who shed his leftist rhetoric  and recast himself as a moderate to win election in June,  invoked a state of emergency on Sunday to break 11 days of  protests that had shut roads, schools and hospitals in  Cajamarca.

The special powers suspend freedom of assembly and allow  the army to help police end marches and rallies against the  proposed gold mine.
An emboldened Humala has also scolded leaders of the  environmental protest for being “intransigent” and causing  weeks of mediation efforts to fail.

Protesters say the U.S. company’s Conga mine would hurt  local water supplies and have demanded the government  permanently cancel it. But the government has said the largest  mining investment in Peruving history would generate thousands  of jobs and generate huge tax revenues.

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 sits 13,800  feet (4,200 metres) high in the Andes and has reserves worth  about $15 billion at current prices.

The impasse has highlighted Humala’s struggle to neutralize  Peru’s polarized political environment and some protesters have  accused Humala of having moved too far to the right and being  too nice to big business.

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