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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (February 9, 2002 – Radio Australia)---Environment groups are outraged that Australian-based resources giant BHP Billiton has secured indemnity against prosecution over any further environmental damage at the Ok Tedi copper mine in Papua New Guinea.

Radio Australia correspondent Rebecca Armstrong reports the mining giant has confirmed it is pulling out of the mine.

"BHP Billiton says it would have preferred to close the mine but shareholders wouldn't support it. So now it will transfer its 52 percent stake to a development fund that will channel any profits to the Papua New Guinean people.

"Chief Executive Paul Anderson says this formally ends a long and difficult involvement with the mine.

"Those difficulties have included an out of court settlement paid to local villagers in 1996 for environmental damage to nearby river systems.

"The withdrawal agreement gives BHP Billiton protection from any further legal action.

"Michael Kerr from the Australian Conservation Foundation says that's unprecedented protection: ‘The only logical conclusion can be that they are walking away from very large environmental and social impacts.’

"The mine is expected to operate for another ten years.

"Rebecca Armstrong, Radio Australia News."

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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