By Marco Aquino
LIMA (Reuters) - A four-day-long blockade in Peru by protesters seeking greater benefits from exploitation of natural resources is disrupting operations of MMG Ltd's Las Bambas copper mine, one of the country's largest, the energy and mines ministry said. Residents of three communities in the Chumbivilcas province of the Andean region of Cusco, 1,100 km (700 miles) southeast of the capital Lima, began the blockade on July 23, the Ministry of Energy and Mines said in a statement on Monday.
The protesters were "putting the health and wellbeing of the public at risk", it added, by violating social distancing rules to fight the coronavirus pandemic that has hit Peru, the world's second-largest copper producer, particularly hard.
Las Bambas, which produces about 400,000 tonnes of copper a year, declined to comment on the protest. Owner MMG is based in Australia.
Communities living around the mine often complain that they see few benefits from the wealth it generates and periodically block the roads that carry its products to the coast for export.
The last protest, at the end of 2020, ran for several weeks and forced the company to declare force majeure on some contracts. Protesters hope for a definitive resolution to their demands from the incoming government of President Pedro Castillo, one supporter said.
"Most of us supported Castillo and this problem has to be heard and solved by the new government," Wilmer Fuentes, an official of the Front for the Defense of the Interests of Las Bambas protest group, told local radio RPP.
Castillo, a former teacher and union leader, has promised to raise taxes on the mining industry to finance its plans for greater investment in health and education. Mining comprises 60% of exports from Peru, primarily for the Chinese market.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)