MAC: Mines and Communities

Peru blames police in copper mine torture case

Published by MAC on 2009-04-06
Source: Reuters (2009-03-19)

Peruvian prosecutors have accused police of torturing protesters at a mining camp in 2005.

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian prosecutors have accused police of torturing protesters at a mining camp in 2005 but cleared a British-Chinese metals company and its security firm of wrongdoing, rights groups said on Wednesday. The case has been closely followed in Peru, a major global metals exporter, where the interests of foreign mining companies and residents of mountain towns often clash.

A government investigation in the northern region of Piura found that more than two dozen people were kidnapped and beaten after protesting against the $1.4 billion Rio Blanco copper project in August 2005. The inquiry concluded that a handful of Peruvian police officers were responsible for the torture.

The investigation turned up no evidence against the project's owner, Monterrico Metals of Britain, and the parent company that bought it two years ago, Zijin Mining Group, China's second-largest gold miner. Forza, the private security firm hired to oversee the camp and owned by Sweden's Securitas, also was cleared.

Prosecutors opened the investigation last year after human rights groups filed a complaint against the mine's owners, Forza and the police.

Accusations of torture were bolstered by photographs, published by the National Coordinating Committee for Human Rights, showing protesters at Rio Blanco caked in blood, with their hands tied behind their backs and plastic bags over their heads.

A judge must now decide whether to put the police officers on trial, drop the case, or ask prosecutors for more evidence.

Lawyers for Fedepaz, the rights group that filed the complaint along with the National Coordinating Committee, denounced the findings as incomplete. "The prosecutors have decided to blame some of the officers identified as direct authors of what happened ... but not those who ordered (the torture)," the group said.

(Editing by Terry Wade and Xavier Briand)

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