By Chris Arsenault
RIO DE JANEIRO, March 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Activists are claiming victory after a Canadian oil company relinquished a huge concession in the Peruvian Amazon seen as a threat to uncontacted indigenous tribes but the firm says its decision came down to business not public pressure.
Toronto-listed Pacific Exploration and Production Corp decided not to develop one million hectares of land deep in the jungle on the Peru-Brazil border because of financial concerns, a company spokeswoman said.
Demands from indigenous rights activists who had been lobbying the firm to leave the ecologically sensitive area had nothing to do with the shift, she said.
Conflicts between resource firms, environmentalists and indigenous groups are not uncommon in Peru as the nation of 30 million people tries to balance a drive for economic growth through mining with local land rights.
"We made operational decisions not to pursue this concession ... it has nothing to do with pressure," the Pacific Exploration spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The company wants to focus on its assets in Colombia. The firm will hold onto concessions in other parts of Peru."
She added that if the company did decide to explore in the Amazon "we would have done it with the highest human rights and sustainability guidelines".
She could not immediately provide information on how much the company had spent since 2008 to secure the concessions that is larger than Puerto Rico and now goes back to Peru's government.
Claims from activists that their lobbying led to the firm's decision to leave the Amazon were "misleading", she said.
Survival International, a London-based campaign group, issued a statement on Wednesday taking credit for the company's move to leave the Amazon.
"This is great news for the global campaign for uncontacted tribes," Survival's Director Stephen Corry said in a statement.
"All uncontacted peoples face catastrophe unless their land is protected."
Survival said border areas between Peru and Brazil are thought to contain more uncontacted indigenous tribes than any other region globally and oil exploration can damage the land these groups depend on and the broader environment.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault @chrisarsenaul, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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