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PORT MORESBY, Papua new Guinea (June 20, 2002 - (The National/PINA Nius Online)---East Sepik islanders are vigorously opposing an agreement between the Papua New Guinea government and a foreign company, Keysen International, to search for missing gold in their sea area.

Islanders in Port Moresby have asked lawyer Ralph Saulep to take the government to court over the agreement.

Spokesmen for the Islanders, John Samar and Alphonse Krau, said the Japanese ship India Maru, rumored to be carrying gold bullion from Singapore, was sunk off the coast of Wewak during the Second World War.

The two men said the Wewak islanders are demanding that they be given a share of any gold bullion recovered to use for economic development of the islands and East Sepik province as a whole.

They said the Wewak islanders are not happy with the government’s signing of the agreement because it does not include the active involvement of marine resource owners from the Wewak area.

They said the government should not have signed the agreement because an entirely new government within the next month will replace the current government. They added that the agreement should have waited until a new government is formed.

Wewak Islanders have asked Saulep Lawyers -- who specialize in commercial law -- to take out a court injunction to stop the salvaging program until the islanders are actively involved and also benefit from the projects proceeds.

The Papua New Guinea government and Australia-based Keysen International Limited signed an agreement in Port Moresby for search and recovery from sunken wartime wrecks, including the India Maru.

Keysen International managing director Anthony Astridge said his company is planning to spend millions of dollars over the next five to six years on the project.

He said if any bullion was found, it would be shared as per the agreement -- that the Papua New Guinea government would take 50 percent. The other half would be shared between Keysen and 15 other companies that invested in the project.

"If there is no gold, we still have other options to venture into," Mr. Astridge said.

He said the technology to be used would be similar to what was used to locate the sunken Russian submarine Kursk and the trans-Atlantic liner Titanic.

The Wewak islanders said that this is the second time the national government has what they described as blatantly ignored the marine resource owners.

The two men claim the people were overlooked when they were excluded from becoming "stakeholders" in the multi-million kina tuna loining factory in Wewak.

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

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

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