At least three people were shot and killed by police and 17 are seriously injured in the Peruvian province of Cotabambas after being shot at and teargassed in a protest against mining the US$7.4-billion Chinese project Las Bamba, as the government calls on demonstrators to engage in dialogue while deploying a massive security force.
Leader of the Front for Defense of the Interests of Cotabambas (FDIC) Jaime Osorio said the disturbances began when a rally of 15,000 people was attacked by police who launched tear gas at them.
Osorio denied that protesters are denouncing that the environmental impact study of the mining project was modified and manipulated, hiding the true cons and allowing for the project to go ahead with disregard to health and the environment. Our correspondent in Peru, Rael Moral, originally reported two dead, but has since updated his information.
The community leader also said the local population demands that a molybdenum and filter factory and a concentrates warehouse be demolished because they have elevated levels of contamination. He said they are urging the government to send a high-level delegation to attend to their demands.
Tensions are high in the province as the government has deployed over 1,600 security forces to Cotabambas, while 22 people have been detained, and according to local reports they are being interrogated.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala regretted the loss of lives during the violent repression of the protest and called on calm and for dialogue, but almost simultaneously the Interior Minister Jose Luis Perez warned that the protest by no means will block the project from going ahead.
Perez said the protesters are responsible for the violent police reaction because they trespassed private property. He said that police resorted to live ammo only after being attacked with stones and other objects.
"Police used non-lethal weapons at the start, and then, to defend themselves, had to use lethal weapons," Perez said in a televised interview.
Police fired tear gas and live bullets at crowds during rallies that had been largely peaceful, said Uriel Condori, a councillor with the government of Challhuahuacho.
Ten people had bullet wounds, a doctor, Jeronimo Roque, told broadcaster RPP.
Residents of nearby areas were upset over a change to the mine's environmental plan they feared would lead to processing of more mineral concentrates and threaten the environment, said Condori.
According to AP, the Las Bambas project is owned by a consortium led by Chinese state giant China Minmetals Corp. It is scheduled to begin production in 2016 and produce 400,000 metric tons of copper the following year.
Peru is the world's third copper producer and mining accounts for about 60 percent of its export earnings.
But resistance from local farmers has frustrated and delayed major projects across the rugged Andean nation. Six people have been killed so far this year in anti-mining protests, including a police officer whose skull was fractured during May protests against the Mexican-owned copper mining project Tia Maria.
Grupo Mexico is a mining company owned by German Larrea, a Mexican billionaire who has been in the spotlight in his country, Spain and Peru, among others, for his dubious way of operating, which includes bribery, exploitation of workers and contamination his company never takes care of cleaning up.