BOUGAINVILLE TO ADDRESS CONCERNS OVER MINE

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post Courier, June 20) – The Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) will not hesitate to take over any mining and exploration rights on Bougainville using its own mining powers.

Mining Minister Mathias Salas said that the ABG wanted to see to among others, the abandoned Panguna [copper] mine reactivated but only under the direction of an acknowledged and proven operator with an outstanding environmental and stakeholder rights record.

[PIR editor’s note: According to an article in PIR’s archives from February this year, investment in the Panguna mine rose by 11 percent last year despite closure of the mine in 1989.]

He said when the Panguna mine first started, the plight of the local landowners was not taken into consideration and nothing was done to enhance direct landowners’ involvement. Both Bougainville Copper Mine (BCL) and the PNG Government acted to suppress Bougainvilleans when they engaged in direct action to prevent impacts on the villages and the environment.

"A restoration program is necessary," Mr Salas said. "The ABG recognises there were investors in the original mine who had no direct knowledge of the lack of concern for the landowners’ rights and interests. Therefore some of those economic interests will be recognised where possible. However, this will be done in full view of the landowners rights during the initial mine being established and operated and further clean-up costs and restitution to the directly impacted villages."

Mr Salas said the ABG saw mineral properties as assets of the entire island population but with special rights and economic interests to directly affected landowners. He said the ABG would meet with BCL and Rio Tinto to express ABG’s interests to reclaim environmental damages and settlement of all claimed interests so a new operator could be contracted without protracted international litigation.

"While the ABG does not wish to unilaterally expropriate the Panguna site, it is the position of the ABG that the Panguna site was wrongfully obtained first by Australia and continued by PNG and therefore title was never granted by the people of Bougainville, rather the mine was obtained by colonial grant without respect for local landowners’ rights," Mr Salas said.

The ABG will have repatriated control of the island’s mineral rights and operation standards by June next year.

It is understood BCL executives will fly to Bougainville tomorrow to meet with ABG.

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