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Barrick's Zaldivar copper mine is pictured in the foothills of the Antofagasta region, 1400 km north of Santiago, Chile April 15, 2013.

STAFF/Reuters

Barrick Gold Corp. plans to sell part of its prized Chilean copper mine, in a move to reduce its $13-billion (U.S.) debt burden.

The partial sale of Zalidvar will crimp Barrick's cash flow at a time when it is dealing with a slump in copper and gold prices.

But Zaldivar, which used to be called the Andean ATM because it generated so much cash, is expected to attract top bids and help Barrick strengthen its finances under a revitalization plan laid out by chairman John Thornton.

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"Potential buyers have expressed a strong interest," Barrick said in a statement announcing its quarterly results.

The world's biggest gold producer plans to cut its debt by $3-billion this year and said "no priority is more important than restoring our balance sheet." The Toronto company has already put its Australian and Papua New Guinea mines up for sale. The partial sale of Zaldivar is a major step away from the copper business for Barrick.

The miner had tried to diversify further into copper with its ill-timed $7-billion acquisition of copper company Equinox Minerals, a purchase that it has written down completely and helped create Barrick's debt problems.

However, even as Barrick works on the sale of Zaldivar, the Canadian miner said it was teaming up with privately-held Quantum Pacific Exploration to explore for copper in northern Chile.

Since Mr. Thornton joined Barrick, he has talked about forming so-called strategic partnerships with China and others. This partnership with the small explorer would be Barrick's first since Mr. Thornton became chairman last year.

Barrick stressed that it had "no plans to expand" its existing copper position but that it wanted to take advantage of the large land positions in Chile that it already owns by working with Quantum.

Barrick itself has gone through significant change under Mr. Thornton's leadership. Nearly every executive has been replaced and the CEO position was eliminated. On Monday, Barrick said Dana Easthope, a corporate secretary at insurer Sun Life Financial, would be joining the company as its corporate secretary.

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For the first three months of the year, Barrick earned $57-million or 5 cents per share, compared with $88-million or 8 cents a year earlier. Analysts had expected Barrick to earn 9 cents per share.

The miner said it was on track to produce as much as 6.6-million ounces of gold this year at an average cost of around $878 per ounce.

The smaller first-quarter profit comes ahead of Barrick's annual meeting on Tuesday, where shareholders will have the opportunity to voice their opinions to Mr. Thornton. Three Canadian pension funds and proxy advisory firms have come out against the board's decision to award Mr. Thornton with a 36 per cent pay raise.

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