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By Isaac Nicholas

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 20, 2000 – The National)---Negotiations are continuing between the government and major stakeholder Broken Hill Propriety (BHP) over the future of the Ok Tedi gold and copper mine in Western Province, Mining Minister Sir Michael Somare said yesterday.

Sir Michael, who visited the mining and Fly River area, told Parliament that the people in general wanted the mine to continue for another 10 years but BHP wanted otherwise.

BHP has had some problems and wanted to pull out and close the mine in the next five years.

A high powered BHP delegation, including chief executive Paul Anderson, BHP Minerals president Ron McNeilly and two other senior executives, arrived in Port Moresby on Monday and held discussions with Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta and Sir Michael.

Sir Michael said the BHP leaders came to see the Prime Minister and himself over the future of the mine.

He said: "They want the mine to close in five years time."

He said from his visit there last week, the people wanted the mine to stay open, although there have been environmental problems.

Sir Michael said even Rex Dagi, the man leading the litigation suit against BHP, wanted the mine to continue.

"The question on the BHP pullout is for the Cabinet to discuss. We have an agreement that if a partner wanted to pull out it has to consult the other partners, and negotiations are still going on," he said.

Sir Michael was replying to questions from the Member of Parliament for North Fly, Kala Swokin, who asked whether it was possible to purchase the 52 percent stake from BHP and let the mining continue.

The minister also apologized to the National MPs from Western Province for not gauging their views on the new Memorandum of Understanding between the state and Ok Tedi area landowners after concerns were raised by South Fly MP Gabia Gagarimabu.

Mr. Gagarimabu said Sir Michael had flown to Ok Tedi with the new MOU without first consulting the MPs from the province.

Sir Michael said in reply that he did not have the time and that there was no sinister motive behind his going there.

He added: "When I was there, the people said they have never seen their MPs."

Sir Michael also said the MOU is between the people and the Ministry of Mines.

However, he said the MOU was not signed because there was a dispute on where the people would keep their money, with the Mineral Resources Development Corporation (MRDC) or other financial institutions.

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

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