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Peru govt renews bid to keep conflicts from turning deadly

LIMA Nov 24 A government commission in Peru traveled to a remote Andean region this week to reassure locals that sorely-needed public works were on the way, part of a renewed bid to keep conflicts in the mineral-rich country from turning deadly, the government said on Thursday.

Three ministers in President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's cabinet met with local leaders in the southern highland province of Espinar to nail down deadlines for paving a highway and building a hospital - helping avert a scheduled protest, said Rolando Luque, who was part of the talks as head of the cabinet's Office of Dialogue.

Officials also promised to ask the World Health Organization to help treat Espinar residents with high levels of heavy metals in their bodies, the government said in a statement.

Espinar is home to Glencore Plc's Antapaccay copper mine as well as the Swiss-based company's now-closed Tintaya mine and its exploration project Coroccohuayco.

Peru is rife with conflicts over water, land rights and pollution. Protests in far-flung provinces have derailed billions in mining investments and left dozens dead in clashes with police in recent years.

Kuczynski, a 78-year-old former investment banker seeking to revive investments in the wake of the global commodities bust, promised as a candidate to ease opposition to mining projects by delivering communities the benefits of development early on.

But since his term began in July, Kuczynski's government has struggled to keep a lid on a flurry of demands across the South American country - from protests for better train service near the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu to anger from indigenous tribes over a dozen oil spills in the Amazon this year.

At least four have died in clashes since Kuczynski took office, including a farmer shot dead near one of the country's biggest copper mines, Las Bambas, which triggered a broader protest that halted exports by operator MMG Ltd.

Luque said the high-level commission would strive to keep protests from flaring by quickly tending to the basic needs of communities long neglected by a weak state.

It was unclear if the government might be strained by its parallel effort to trim spending to rein in the fiscal deficit.

The group is heading next to the province of Chumbivilcas, where protesters suspended operations at Hudbay Mineral Inc's Constancia copper mine earlier this month, before meeting with chiefs in the Amazonian town of Saramurillo, affected by oil pollution, Luque said.

(Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Chris Reese)

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