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Southern Copper partially suspends Peru operations due to rains

LIMA, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Southern Copper Corp has partially suspended its operations in southern Peru due to heavy rains and is searching for a worker who was swept away by a mudslide, the company said late on Sunday.

Southern Copper said in a statement that it shut down its processing plant at Cuajone as a preventative measure on Friday, but denied there may have been any tailings spill.

Peru's environmental regulator OEFA said on Sunday that it was investigating a potential tailings spill at Cuajone, describing a "greenish solution" that had leaked into the local Torata River from the company's waste depository.

An OEFA team was still investigating the matter on Monday, after being alerted to potential troubles at Cuajone by local residents, an OEFA spokesman said by phone.

Southern Copper, controlled by Grupo Mexico, has been trying to improve relations with residents in southern Peru in hopes of reviving its $1.4 billion Tia Maria mine, which has been repeatedly delayed due to protests by farmers and activists concerned with environmental impacts.

The company has been waiting for a construction permit from the government to begin work on Tia Maria.

Heavy rains and mudslides in Peru have killed at least five people and left hundreds without homes in the past week, according to authorities.

Southern Copper said it has been "seriously affected" by the rains, with flooding in some of its installations. It was still searching for a 64-year-old employee who it said was swept away by a massive mudslide while clearing debris from a ravine.

The company said mining at its Cuajone and Toquepala pits have continued as usual.

Deadly rains in neighboring Chile have also suspended some copper operations.

Chile and Peru are the world's No.1 and No.2 copper producers, respectively.

(Reporting By Marco Aquino and Mitra Taj Editing by Nick Zieminski)