By Chris Arsenault
RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One of the world's biggest gold mining firms has pledged to improve its dispute resolution practices following an 18-month investigation into a bitter, ongoing conflict over land between farmers and its Peruvian subsidiary.
Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation said the company-financed independent investigation into conflicts around South America's largest gold mine had found no conclusive evidence of human rights abuses.
Rights groups had complained that private security forces backed by the firm assaulted protesting farmers. The company denies being involved in the attacks.
But Newmont said in a statement after the investigation was released on Wednesday that it had not properly followed its own standards for dialogue in resolving land disputes.
Land rights campaigners welcomed the report from Washington-based RESOLVE consulting firm, which said the mining firm "prioritised eviction and litigation over dialogue" with farmers.
The dispute over land in the Peruvian highlands underlines tensions that can arise between farmers and investors when property rights are not clearly demarcated.
Farmers and miners both say they are the rightful owners of the disputed territory which contains valuable gold deposits.
"The complex land dispute ... remains a concern for us," Newmont spokeswoman Elaine Dorward-King said in a statement.
Newmont, the majority owner of the Yanacocha mine, will use the report to "evaluate and improve" practices and "if possible, as a foundation for achieving a responsible solution", Dorward-King said.
One of the farmers at the centre of the dispute, Maxima Acuna de Chaupe, won the Goldman Environmental Prize in April due to her land rights activism.
A potato grower, Acuna said she had bought the disputed land in the Tragadero Grande region of Peru's Andean highlands from a relative in 1994.
The company maintains that it is the rightful owner of the land.
Both sides say the RESOLVE report backs their claims to the contested territory.
The standoff started in 2011, when Minera Yanacocha began trying to acquire the small tract of territory to build the new Conga gold mine, Acuna's supporters said.
"Minera Yanacocha treated Maxima like an invader," Mirtha Vasquez, the activist's Peru-based attorney, said in a statement. "This report should be supplemented by a thorough investigation into the violation of rights."
Newmont said it will intensify its dialogue with farmers to attempt to resolve the land dispute, conduct more monitoring and work to improve its performance in light of the report.
(Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Jo Griffin; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)