FIJI GOLD MINE CLOSES, 1700 JOBLESS

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Dec. 5) - More than 1,700 people are jobless after the Emperor Mines Limited ceased operations of Vatukoula Gold Mine yesterday.

[PIR editor’s note: The Vatukoula Gold Mine is located in the northern part of Viti Levu island in Fiji.]

Emperor's chief executive Brad Gordon said this decision was made after the completion of an extensive three-month review of the Vatukoula Mine, which determined that the mine was not economically viable.

He said the closure of the Vatukoula Gold Mine is not a result of the political situation in the country at the moment.

"The mine will now move into a care and maintenance mode over the coming two weeks, and most work areas will no longer operate from today. Some essential functions will continue, so that finance and human resources services can continue. Workers are being advised not to attend work, and are being stood down on notice," said Mr. Gordon who is in the country to make the announcement.

Gordon said workers advised that yesterday was their last day at work and given eight weeks notice to be paid in an orderly weekly basis.

"We will continue to pay the workers through Christmas period as normal, we will continue to pay them through the end of January. Anything in addition to that we want to get the government and the communities input into what we may do beyond that commitment," he said.

Gordon said the only activity that would occur over the next four weeks is a decommissioning of the mill as the mill gets the final gold out of the circuit.

Gordon said the mine was losing as much as FJ$3 million to FJ$5 million [US$1.8 million to US$3 million] every single month including important capital expenses which were needed to keep the mine open and safe.

The mine, which has been operating for over 75 years Gordon said has all but exhausted the gold ore resources that could be profitably mined.

He said the recent review produced results showed that the remaining gold ore could not be mined profitably as the company would lose over FJ$80 million [US$48 million] trying to recover what has been identified as possible gold ore.

Mine Workers Union general secretary Satish Chandra said it was disappointing and the workers were given a termination letter. He said the union would be having consultations with the management in the next few days.

Emperor Mines Ltd and the entities it controlled during the year ended June 30, 2006, made a loss of FJ$27,217,000 [US$16,430,331] after tax. Emperor owns interests in three gold mines: 20 percent of the Porgera Joint Venture—one of the worlds largest gold mines; 100 percent of the Vatukoula gold mine in Fiji; and 100 percent of the Tolukuma gold mine in Papua New Guinea.

Finance Minister Ratu Jone Kubuabola said the closure of the Vatukoula Gold mine would have a huge impact on the economy as export earnings would drop.

Leader of opposition Mick Beddoes said the Vatukola Goldmines closure, although unrelated to the military coup under way, is the first in a series of 'blows' that the innocent people of Fiji will face'

"The shock announcement of the closure of the Vatukola Gold Mines, although unrelated to the current coup, is still the first in a series of 'blows' that will be felt by the innocent people of Fiji," said Beddoes.

Beddoes said the 1,700 job losses in the already depressed Vatukola area would be huge and the impact on the Tavua Town would be greater.

With Christmas just around the corner and the imposition of sanctions from our neighbors, the outlook for the many innocent people who will be victims of the coup is bleak," said Beddoes.

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