An
inter-agency panel of the Philippine government vowed on Thursday to prevent
attacks on mining projects but rejected a proposal to set up a special military
unit to protect mines.

The
meeting of 12 government agencies was held after armed men attacked the base
camp of what could become the largest mining project in the country, a copper
and gold mine being developed by Xstrata plc .

No
one was injured in the New Year’s Day attack but seven buildings of the camp
were burned down. The attack was later claimed by the communist New People’s
Army (NPA).

“We
can’t allow a repeat of such attacks and we agreed to work closely with the
mining industry to address local issues and prevent further violence,”
Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Jose Atienza told Reuters.

He
said the meeting was not in favour of a proposal to organise, train and deploy
a special military team to protect mining projects getting threats from the NPA
rebels.

“We
don’t need special units,” he said. “But we instructed the military
and police to work closely with other agencies and the mining companies to
address local issues that could affect the security of these projects.

“We
should be more aggressive in helping mining companies deal with the local
community, anticipating social, environment and other concerns and issues that
could affect the security of the mining projects.”

The
Philippines allows 100 percent
foreign ownership of mining projects in the country in an effort to bring much
needed investment into the sector. The archipelago is believed to have about $1
trillion in unexplored mineral wealth.

The
Xstrata mine, in the Tampakan area on the southern island of Mindanao, has been earmarked as
one of the government’s priority projects.

It
is one of the biggest undeveloped copper resources in Southeast Asia and total resources are
estimated at 12.8 million tonnes of contained copper and 15.2 million ounces of
contained gold.

Tampakan
is due to launch production in 2013, with annual output of 200,000 tonnes of
copper and 200,000 ounces of gold.

The
mine is 62.5 percent owned by Xstrata and 32.5 percent by Australia’s Indophil Resources NL
.

(Reporting
by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)