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Inmet Mining Corp. will seek a strategic partner for its huge but costly Petaquilla copper project in Panama, the Canadian miner's chief executive officer said Wednesday.

Inmet took full control of the $3.5-billion project late last year after buying out Petaquilla Copper Ltd. and its 26 per cent share, and taking over the 26 per cent stake abandoned by Teck Cominco Ltd. as part of a cost-cutting move.

Petaquilla is expected to yield 223,000 tonnes of copper and 87,000 ounces of gold annually over the first 10 years of its 23-year mine life. But soaring cost estimates have put the project's timetable in doubt.

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In its fourth-quarter earnings release Tuesday, Inmet said it planned to continue to advance the project, and CEO Richard Ross said Wednesday the company planned to try to replace Teck Cominco's deep pockets.

"It's very early days, but we recognize the fact that a project of this size would benefit from a strategic partner," Mr. Ross told Reuters.

"So, over the course of the next year or so, we're going to start to evaluate what our options are with respect to that."

He said the company has fielded questions as to whether it planned to move ahead with Petaquilla as a full owner.

"Our answer is no, it is not our intention to move forward on a 100 per cent basis," he said.

"Exactly what form of partnership we would create, with who or at what level, is yet to be determined."

To date, Inmet has invested $522-million in the project.

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The company plans to push the project ahead over the next two years and then make a decision on major construction, meaning actual production is still some years off.

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