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Drug cartel behind Zijin Peru copper project attack
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-05 08:44

A weekend attack on a copper project in northern Peru that left three dead may have been the work of drug traffickers who want to keep the area undeveloped in order to protect their trade, the head of a business leaders group said on Tuesday.

The Rio Blanco copper project, owned by China's Zijin Mining Group, on Sunday was invaded by 15 to 20 gunmen who fired at employees - killing three - and then set the complex ablaze, the company said.

Opium poppies cultivated for the heroin trade are grown in the mountainous area.

"There is no dispute or conflict with the community, so this makes you think that criminal interests are behind it, probably drug traffickers," said Ricardo Briceno, head of Confiep, Peru's largest business federation. Police said they were still collecting evidence from the attack.

Big mines tend to bring roads, police and development to areas where those involved in the drug trade want to keep a low-profile.

"Narcos don't like formal companies because they bring lots of attention to the area of their illegal activities," said Fernando Cilloniz, an analyst for CPN radio.

The $1.4-billion Rio Blanco mining development is run by Monterrico Metals of Britain, which was bought by Zijin in 2007.

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The company and people from the business community say townspeople now support the construction of the mine, though violence has broken out before at Rio Blanco.

The Peruvian government has also struggled at times to win the public debate over the benefits that big mines bring to isolated towns in the Andes.

Residents in poor Peruvian towns, sometimes working with international environmental groups, often argue with foreign firms and the government over mining and oil projects in Peru, one of the world's largest mineral exporters.

In June, dozens died near the town of Bagua, in Peru's northern jungle, as police broke up roadblocks set by indigenous groups opposed to oil exploration on their ancestral lands.

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