PNG GOLD MINE SAYS SCAVENGERS ON RISE

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Oct. 12) – Illegal mining activities continue to bug the Porgera Joint Venture and have become a great concern for the country’s mining industry, Mining Minister Sam Akoitai said last Friday.

Mr Akoitai made the observation after visiting the mining site with Environment and Conservation Minister William Duma to see for themselves the problems being faced by the mining company and the illegal miners.

Mr Akoitai said steps had been taken to deal with illegal miners but he hoped that they are being fast-tracked as it is illegal for people to work within the Special Mining Lease areas.

He said the government should seek other options, adding that there is a greater need for the local members to talk to their own people.

In recent weeks, the number of illegal miners who entered the ore pits has risen alarmingly, the two ministers were told. This had led sometimes to confrontations with mine security personnel and had posed threats to the safety of both mine employees and mine site intruders.

[PIR editor’s note: Pacific Islands Report last month reported that Papua New Guinea police have filed murder charges in at least one of the numerous deaths that have been reported at the Porgera gold mine in Enga Province by area landowners this year. Porgera Police Senior Sergeant Richard Koki, who is heading investigations into the deaths, confirmed that some cases are being treated as homicides. He denied, however, that 29 people have died at the mine, as claimed by an association of landowners in the area. Koki said a police investigation into one of the deaths has been completed and is currently before the National Supreme Court. He would not say if any arrests had been made. ]

Mr Akoitai noted that under the Mine Safety Act there are laws to comply with but could not be carried out effectively because of the people entering the mine site illegally.

Mine general manager Phil Stephenson told the ministers during a briefing that it is a problem that needed to be looked into by both the government and local communities.

Mr Stephenson said "PJV couldn’t do it alone".

During the mine tour, Mr Akoitai urged the illegal miners, mostly from districts outside of Porgera, to respect company rules and regulations for their own safety.

Mr Akoitai told the illegal miners in pidgin their lives are worth much more than the rocks they are trying to retrieve.

However, a spokesman for the illegal miners said these (illegal mining activities) are their only means of livelihood, adding that their fathers have been doing this even before PJV came into existence.

Mr Akoitai told the mine executives that as Mining Minister the issue is of great concern in terms of mine safety and that finding a lasting solution is in the best interests of both the national and the Enga provincial governments.

"It’s obvious that the situation calls for a partnership approach to deal with the whole issue," he said.

According to Mr Akoitai, steps have been taken to deal with illegal miners but he hoped that they are being fast-tracked as it is illegal for people to work within the Special Mining Lease areas.

He said the government should seek other options, adding that there is a greater need for the local members to talk to their own people.

October 13, 2005

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

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