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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 21, 2000 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---The dumping of poisonous wastes from the Porgera gold mine, operated by Placer Niugini Ltd., has been blamed for 183 mysterious deaths now being investigated by health authorities.

Lagaip-Porgera MP Opis Papo claimed in Parliament that 120 of the deaths occurred at the headwaters of the Strickland River, into which the Porgera mine dumps wastes from its rich gold mine in Enga Province.

In a series of questions and comments directed at Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta, he claimed that studies and tests conducted by a number of medical and scientific experts confirmed that the deaths were caused by poisoning of the river system.

Mr. Papo said local landowners and those affected were considering a class action suit against the state and the mine’s joint venture partners.

The Prime Minister said while he was aware of the potential for some environmental damage in any mining activity, the magnitude claimed was serious.

"I am aware that when mining takes place some contamination of the environment inevitably results. They go together, and it’s not just here, it’s everywhere else," he said.

"These are very serious claims, however, and if they are true it is not acceptable to the government, that this level of contamination has been allowed to take place, and resulting in direct deaths of Papua New Guineans, if that’s true.

"I will take the questions on board and ask the minister for environment to make a detailed statement later this week or sometime next week.

Placer Niugini managing director Evert van den Brand dismissed the claims as being "politically motivated."

He said the same claims had been made for the past eight years and disproved each time.

Mr. van den Brand said Mr. Papo’s latest outcry was based on a paper presented at a recent medical symposium, which made reference to the deaths.

He said the paper did not relate those deaths to the mine but to an "infectious disease."

Mr. van den Brand said Mr. Papo’s claims were "outrageous and completely untrue."

"We have reason to say this (mine waste) is not the reason the people are dying," he said. "It is not the Porgera joint venture’s fault. If dumping of waste is blamed as causing the deaths it is pertinently untrue."

Mr. van den Brand said a team of international scientific and environmental experts organized by CSIRO of Australia had done a study of the mine’s waste disposal, and approved their waste dumping, management and monitoring system.

"³They found that there’s nothing we do that¹s wrong," he said.

He said the Porgera wastes were well treated, analyzed and dumped, adding that constant tests and analysis were done throughout the year.

Mr. van den Brand said the company had already provided the government with the necessary reports of studies and would cooperate fully if more was required on the tailings disposal system.

He believed the deaths were related to outbreaks of infectious diseases.

A medical symposium last week was told that the 120 people who died in the headwaters of the Strickland River over the past ten years had symptoms that included bleeding, abdominal pains and swellings.

Dr. Gerard Saleu conducted the preliminary study.

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

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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