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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (August 5, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---Traditional landowners of the Naketi nickel mine have obtained a discount on the takeover price of the mine from the affluent Ballande group, but tension on the site is still high, RFO-radio reported.

"We were a little bit apprehensive after what happened last weekend. We thought the landowners wouldn't turn up. They did, and it's a good sign," Ballande Industries Mining Director Jean-Jacques Nekito said.

Last month, Ballande announced it would sell Naketi to the Société des Mines de Naketi (SMN) for a "symbolic Franc," with a clause that SMN pay off Ballande’s assets with future nickel productions.

At a meeting held Wednesday, Ballande offered the company's assets, valued at 360 million CFP (US$ 3.6 million), depreciated, thus bringing down the cost by 30 percent.

But Wilfrid Ma's MKM (Ma´ Kouaoua Mines), another mining company that intended to work on the same site, was told to leave and offered small contracts elsewhere in New Caledonia.

Since last month, tension between the two companies has escalated, causing roadblocks and the destruction of houses and machinery.

Over the weekend, a group of youngsters from the village attacked the MKM camp and burned down barracks and industrial machinery on the MKM mining site waiting to be dismantled.

"The camp has been ransacked, front doors smashed, equipment burned, and, on Monday night, trucks windows were smashed again," MKM director Alain Vasseur said.

Gendarmes from nearby Canala arrested a person involved in the vandalism, but they later had to release him after being stopped by a roadblock.

"Law and order is no longer there," Vasseur complained.

A trench had to be dug to bar access to all vehicles at the MKM camp, until the company removes some 400-million CFP worth of equipment. We're being kicked out. We accept leaving, but, on top of that, should we go and leave our machinery?" asked Vasseur.

Mining activities on the Naketi site have been paralyzed for the last two and a half months.

This bulletin was produced by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA). Editor: Patrick Antoine Decloitre For more information, contact Nina Ratulele, PINA Administrator, at pina@is.com.fj

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