Benguet Corp (BC.PS), the Philippines' fourth biggest miner by market value, has suspended exploration activity at a copper-gold project on the southern island of Mindanao due to a dispute with a local partner, the firm said on Tuesday.

Benguet told the stock exchange the suspension was intended to give the company relief from the effects of the pending dispute, which frustrates the performance of its obligations under its contract. The company, the Philippines' biggest gold miner until the late 1980s, said its partner, unlisted Nationwide Development Corp, last year filed a complaint with the government to remove Benguet as operator of the project.

They're saying that the development of the project has been delayed, which is not true, Benguet counsel Reynaldo Mendoza told Reuters, adding that the company had hired independent mining consultancy firm SRK to do a feasibility study.

Once the parties have settled their dispute, activities at the Kingking project located in Pantukan, Compostela Valley will resume, Mendoza said.

The Kingking site has an estimated mineral resource of 353 million tonnes with an average grade of 0.35 percent copper and 0.439 percent gold.

Benguet was in talks with nickel producer Jinchuan Group Ltd about the state-run Chinese firm investing in Kingking, Mendoza said. The talks are still ongoing with Jinchuan and others, he added.

But given the global financial crisis, investors have taken a wait and see stance for the time being, he said. (Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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