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CARTAGENA, Colombia (Reuters) - The South American nation of Guyana expects to begin exporting the steel-making component manganese in 2013 for the first time in nearly 50 years, President Donald Ramotar said on Sunday.

The former British colony, which wants to make the mining sector a bigger part of its economy, gave junior miner Reunion Gold Corporation a license two years ago to explore and develop an area in the north-western part of the country.

"Guyana used to be an exporter of manganese, in the '60s, but at that time the technology wasn't very well developed," Ramotar told Reuters in Cartagena, Colombia, where he is attending the Summit of the Americas.

"It has become viable again. Next year the company will start commercial operations and will begin exporting around the same time," said Ramotar, whose election in late 2011 extended the ruling PPP/C party's almost two-decades in power.

Guyana is seeking to spur economic development through investment in mining operations that can create jobs, build infrastructure and reduce illegal gold mining that is linked to violence in some rural areas.

JOB CREATION

Reunion's manganese subsidiary is developing an area near an abandoned mine at Matthews Ridge that was operated in the 1960s until it stopped being profitable.

"There are a lot benefits. There is the opportunity to collect a lot of taxes there, and it will create jobs for people in the region," the president said. 

 

Reunion plans to build two roads in association with the project, he said, which is crucial for a country that has large stretches of isolated jungle that are often linked to cities by little more than dirt or mud paths.

"The mining sector has huge potential. We also have agreed on some projects for large-scale production of gold," said Ramotar, who made the expansion of the mining industry a key part of his election campaign.

Guyanese officials said last year that mining investments include a $1 billion gold project to be developed by Guyana Goldfields and an agreement with First Bauxite Corporation to develop the Bonasika mine.

The country has also invited Spanish oil company Repsol and Canada-based CGX Energy to drill off its coast, which could provide a source of crude for a country that relies on imports for fuel.

"We expect information in about a month's time as to whether or not there has been a discovery," Ramotar said.

CGX said in February it started drilling for oil for the first time since it was forced out of the area in a dispute with neighbouring Suriname in 2000.

Guyana also has a long-standing border dispute with its larger neighbour, Venezuela, which has complicated efforts to explore for oil and gas off its western coast.

(Editing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Gunna Dickson)