Grupo Mexico is closing its strike-hit Cananea copper mine and seeking government approval to fire the miners that have been on strike since 2007, a company spokesman said on Tuesday.

The company (GMEXICOB.MX: Quote) is invoking a section of the labor code that would allow it to fire the strikers because the mine can no longer operate due to damage to its facilities, Grupo Mexico officials said.

The cause is force majeure (due to) the damage caused to the mine. ... Federal labor legislation includes the possibility that the company can terminate labor relations when this occurs, said Grupo Mexico spokesman Juan Rebolledo.

Workers walked off the job at Cananea, one of the world's largest copper mines, in July 2007 in a dispute over contracts and safety at the mine. The mine produced more than 450 tonnes of copper a day when operational.

Extensive damage at the mine has been caused by the strikers, Grupo Mexico claims. The company says its case against the strikers has been bolstered by a government report which concluded in early March that the mine was inoperable due to damage caused by the workers.

A hearing on the company's request is tentatively set for April 14 and the whole process should be completed by July, said Salvador Rocha, a lawyer who is representing Grupo Mexico.

Grupo Mexico may decide to reopen the mine at a later date if the investment made economic sense, Rocha said. The company would not have to rehire the strikers in the event the mine reopened although it would have to pay the new workers as much as those who were fired, Rocha said.

The miners union is currently drafting a response to the company's request, a union spokesman said. The union is also challenging the conclusions of the government report.

The union accuses the government of conducting an intimidation campaign against its leaders as part of a drive to squelch independent labor unions.

The government has charged union chief Napoleon Gomez, who currently lives in self-imposed exile in Canada, with fraud and other crimes against the union.

Cananea is operated by Southern Copper Corp (PCU.N: Quote), Grupo Mexico's majority-owned mining unit.

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