NICOSIA – A copper mine in Cyprus, where the metal has been mined since Biblical times, faces closure unless the Church of Cyprus can find a buyer, officials said on Wednesday. The Skouriotissa Mine suspended operations in January, leaving its workers unpaid and with debts labor unions estimate at 14 million pounds ($31.1 million). Despite high world copper prices, the mine faces the risk of permanent closure. «The Church itself lost about 8.5 million pounds from this, we kept it running for as long as possible,» said Bishop Chrysostomos, who handles financial affairs of the Church of Cyprus. The Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, which has business interests ranging from real estate to the island’s largest brewery, owns 39 percent of Skouriotissa through Hellenic Copper Mines (HCM). Greece’s Mytilineos metallurgy group owns 29 percent. Skouriotissa reopened in 1996 after more than two decades of inactivity. Based on 2002 projections, it had at least 10 years of production of 6,500 tons annually and an estimated 200,000 tons of contained copper metal in ore reserves. Skouriotissa operators blame its demise on several factors, including accumulated losses from when copper prices were low as well as high overheads. There also have been allegations of financial difficulties in several institutions controlled by the Church. The Church is in consultations with Mytilineos to dispose of the stake to an unnamed third party. «We don’t have a deal yet, we are waiting for them to answer,» Chrysostomos told Reuters. Constantinos Loizides, chairman of HCM, said contacts with creditors and banks were at their «final stages» but declined to comment further. The Church had expected an answer last Friday on a possible sale, but was willing to wait a few more days, the bishop said. Lying some 55 kilometers west of the capital, Skouriotissa covers a hilly region on the foothills of the Troodos. According to the Semitic Museum at Harvard University, the ancient Romans leased the mines to the highest bidder. In 12 BC, rights to mines in the area went to King Herod, who was allowed to keep half the profits.