OK TEDI LANDOWNERS THREATEN TO SHUT PNG COPPER AND GOLD MINE

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By Daniel Korimbao

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 20, 1999 - The National)---Ok Tedi landowners have demanded that the Department of Mineral Resources convene a meeting for a review of an agreement between them and the State, by the end of this month.

The agreement, signed in 1991 between the two, provides for certain benefits to flow to the landowners from the State. The agreement is reviewable every five years from the year of signing.

The landowners said yesterday the State has not honored its obligations under the agreement, and they want a review, which they say has been overdue for three years.

Spokesman for the landowners, Borok Pitalok, told reporters at a press conference in Parliament that they would force the closure of the Ok Tedi mine if the Department of Mineral Resources did not come to the negotiating table for a review of the agreement by the end of the month.

Mr. Pitalok said the department has avoided a review since 1996, and they have been patient for three years.

''We cannot accept this any more; either they come to us for a review of the agreement as stipulated, or we close down the mine,'' Mr. Pitalok said.

Under the agreement, the State was to provide, among other things, a loan guarantee of K 5 million over 5 years to the landowners and a interest free loan of K 0.5 million to the Star Mountain Local Level Government.

However, the State has not provided either of these to date.

Mr. Pitalok said the review would center around these matters and other concerns of the landowners, given that the mine has a life span of less than nine years remaining.

Lawyer for the landowners, Loani Henao, said their numerous requests for a review since 1996 seem to have fallen on deaf years.

He said when they last contacted the department in October last year, officials there said the review would take place this year. Frustrated, the landowners even offered to pay the cost of travel and accommodation for the department officials, but they declined.

Mr. Henao then approached Minister Masket Iangalio, who agreed that the review should proceed at the end of January.

But, according to Mr. Henao, he later received advice from the department saying the review would take place in mid February, when an official who is on leave returns to work.

''The mine on our land has served the country and the Government well, and they cannot play around with us like this,'' Mr. Pitalok said.

''We will shut down the mine if this review does not go ahead this month,'' he said.

Their move is being fully supported by the Fly River provincial government.

Governor Nobert Makmop, who was at the conference, said any action the landowners take would have his full blessing.

Late yesterday, Ok Tedi Mining, Limited, which is not a party to the agreement, released a statement urging both parties to meet to review the agreement.

It said the agreement does not provide for mine operations to be disrupted should problems arise, adding any forced closure would not only be illegal but would also mean a loss for all concerned.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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