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CORRECTED-Indonesian minister backs plans for new copper smelter in Papua

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(Corrects 4th paragraph to say 'late in 2023' not 'late next year')

JAKARTA, Oct 27 (Reuters) - An Indonesian cabinet minister is pushing for American mining giant Freeport McMoRan to be allowed to expand its copper concentrate output so as to supply a planned smelter in the easternmost region of Papua, he said on Wednesday.

Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia said many people in the provinces of Papua and West Papua had sought construction of what would be the first smelter in a region home to Freeport's Grasberg copper and gold mine.

"I am in intense communication with the president, following the requests from our Papuan friends to have a smelter," the minister told an online media briefing.

Bahlil said local arm PT Freeport Indonesia had annual capacity to produce 3 million tonnes of copper concentrate, or just enough for its existing smelter and another plant that is expected to start operations late in 2023 or early in 2024.

He had asked the mining ministry and other authorities to let Freeport raise its annual concentrate output to between 3.8 million and 4 million tonnes, he said, but gave no timeframe.

A spokesperson of Freeport Indonesia did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for comment.

Freeport launched construction this month of a new $3-billion smelter in Gresik in East Java, with input capacity of 1.7 million tonnes of copper concentrate.

An existing smelter, also in East Java, has capacity of about 1.3 million tonnes, Bahlil added.

In past hearings with mining officials, some lawmakers from Papua have voiced requests for a smelter to be located there so as to bring jobs to one of Indonesia's poorest and least developed areas.

In April, Indonesia signed a pact with China ENFI Engineering Corporation (ENFI) to build a copper smelter in its province of West Papua, with the capacity to turn out 400,000 tonnes of copper cathode a year. (Reporting by Fransiska Nangoy and Bernadette Christina Munthe; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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