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Arrest of local leader in Peru deepens deadlock over copper road blockade

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LIMA (Reuters) – An indigenous community in Peru will not take part in negotiations aimed at ending its blockade of a road used by Chinese copper miner MMG Ltd until its leader is freed from jail, the community’s second-in-command said on Monday.

Edison Vargas, the vice president of Fuerabamba, said by phone that the arrests last week of the community’s president and lawyers on accusations of extortion were groundless and aimed to delegitimise their complaints.

Fuerabamba wants MMG to pay it for using a stretch of road on its farmland, accusing the company of building it to transport copper from its Las Bambas mine without the community’s permission.

The company denies those allegations and has said it remains open to dialogue.

The arrests have triggered an outcry from other communities in Peru’s southern copper belt, threatening to broaden a protest that has prevented Las Bambas’ copper output from being shipped to market for more than a month.

The mayors of six districts in the province where Las Bambas is located, Cotabambas, have signed a declaration condemning the “criminalisation” of local leaders and calling on MMG and the government to make good on previous commitments to communities in the region.

The government of President Martin Vizcarra did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It previously denied it was behind the arrests of Gregorio Rojas, Fuerabamba’s president, or Fuerabamba’s lawyers, the brothers Jorge and Frank Chavez.

Peru’s police department did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. The police have accused Rojas and the Chavez brothers of belonging to a criminal organization that deals in extortion, but have not yet publicly detailed the evidence against them.

Peru, the world’s No. 2 copper producer, is rife with conflicts over mining, especially in remote provinces where international companies operate alongside farming communities.

(Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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