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LUSAKA (Reuters) – Zambia’s troubled Luanshya Copper Mine (LCM) has halted operations and will only restart if the price of copper rises, the firm’s chief executive officer Derek Webbstock said on Saturday.

Webbstock said mining operations ceased on Saturday and all 1,740 employees would be laid off.

“The mine is closed and all the workers will be laid off,” Webbstock told Reuters. “I don’t know when the operations will resume … it will only be after the price of copper is up again.”

Mines and minerals development minister Maxwell Mwale said the government would work to ensure operations of the mine resumed in the shortest possible time, but said the government would not step in and buy it.

“We cannot just come in because there are legal implications since this (mine) is a private property,” Mwale said. “But we are determined to make sure the mine begins to operate again because we don’t want job losses.”

Copper is Zambia’s biggest export and the mines, which are a major employer, are struggling with a fall in global metal prices.

Mwale said he held a crisis meeting with unions on Saturday but did not give further details.

LCM, a joint venture of International Mineral Resources and Bein Stein Group Resources, operates Chambishi Metals and the Baluba copper mine.

Chambishi’s cobalt smelter was shut down two weeks ago. But its roaster, which is used for copper refining, and the Baluba mine were still operational until Saturday.

LCM had already suspended its new $354 million Mulyashi mine project while it reviewed its viability.

Mwale said LCM’s owners had not injected enough cash into the company after buying it from the government in 2003. Last week, the government said it was looking at ways of saving the mine from collapse.

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