LIMA – Two civilians died in clashes between peasants and police in the northern province of Huancabamba, Peruvian media said on Thursday.
The incidents occurred on Wednesday afternoon when police tried to arrest several people suspected in a Nov. 1 attack that left three people dead at a mining camp run by Chinese-owned Rio Blanco Copper.
A resident of the remote town of Cajas Canchaque, Elmer Tocto, told CNR radio that police fired at the villagers when they rose up in defense of the suspects.
In the fighting, two peasants – identified as Castulo Correa Huayama, 39, and Vicente Romero Ramirez, 52 – died from police gunfire and six other townspeople were wounded, among them an 18-year-old man who was hit in the head by a bullet, CNR reported.
Meanwhile, regional police commander Walter Rivera reported that two officers were also wounded and said that his men made use of their weapons in legitimate self-defense, according to CNR.
Gen. Rivera said that the police tried to arrest three people in Cajas Canchaque.
The deaths of the peasants were confirmed by the representative of the National Ombudsman’s Office, Vito Verna, according to reporting by the daily La Republica on Thursday.
For her part, nationalist lawmaker Marisol Espinoza on Thursday said in an interview with RPP radio that Vicente Romero was not shot at the scene of the clashes “but rather on a rural road and in the back.”
The legislator added that last week several peasants from the area had been arrested and interrogated inside Rio Blanco facilities.
Mining operations in the area have drawn opposition from residents.
A non-binding referendum was held in September 2007, with some 95 percent of the votes being cast against the mining project.
The Rio Blanco project, previously known as the Majaz project, was transferred in 2007 by Britain’s Monterrico Metals to China’s Zijin, with total investment reaching $1.4 billion.
The Peruvian government gave Monterrico Metals the green light in 2003 for the Rio Blanco project, but the company failed to win the support of residents, who staged protests the following year that left two dead. EFE