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Says police have nothing to hide around Porgera

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, June 11, 2009) – Australia’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea and other diplomats were welcome to visit the mine site that is subject to accusations of murder, destruction of locals’ homes and other violence, Foreign Minister Sam Abal said yesterday.

Speaking in Brisbane, Abal said there were law and order problems at Barrick Gold’s Porgera Valley mine and the Papua New Guinean Government had nothing to hide.

"I come from that area so I know the facts of the situation," Abal said.

Activists said local villagers had a list of dozens of people killed or assaulted by police and security forces during a law and order crackdown.

Abal said people should not be living on the Special Mining Lease granted in 1989.

While hundreds of locals lived within the lease area 20 years ago, many more had subsequently come to live there, including criminal elements.

"It is not so convenient when a large world-class mining company wants to dig gold out and there are people everywhere," Abal pointed out.

He said some people even risked their lives to search for gold.

"The landowners, the actual landowners of the place, together with the local administration, and with the local MP of that area, requested the National Government to do something about the situation.

"Therefore, Cabinet decided, after assessing the situation, that because there was some arms build-up around the area, police action had to be taken immediately before anything seriously dangerous came up," he said.

Abal said people within the lease area were given "about a month to move out".

He also clarified that sheds were destroyed and not houses as alleged by the group MiningWatch Canada.

Barrick Gold is a Canadian company with its regional headquarters in Perth.

Questioned about human rights abuse, Abal said: "They should visit the Porgera mine for themselves".

"I have also asked the mine to invite all the ambassadors, including the Australian High Commissioner, to come and see for themselves what has happened," he added.

Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith said the allegations concerning the mine were a matter for Papua New Guinea.

He said the High Commissioner could visit the mine if he chose to do so.

"It would not surprise me if (the invitation) was taken up by our high commissioner.

"That is a good thing too," Mr. Smith said.

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