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Somare says Rio Tinto’s influence controlled the government

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, June 26, 2011) - Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare signed an affidavit accusing mining giant Rio Tinto of driving the war on Bougainville, according to a report aired on Australian television.

Rio Tinto's subsidiary, Bougainville Copper, owns the Panguna copper mine which sparked the civil war on the island.

[PIR editor’s note: The Australian company, Bougainville Copper Ltd. Operated the Panguna mine in the 70’s and 80’s. The mine closed in 1989 as a result of sabotage by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and associated forces, which sought Bougainville's secession from Papua New Guinea and an end to the mining on environmental grounds.]

The affidavit was presented as evidence for landowners seeking compensation for damage from the mine through the court system in the United States.

In the affidavit, Sir Michael said because of Rio Tinto's financial influence in PNG, it controlled the government.

He said the government followed Rio Tinto's requests and that Rio Tinto was directly involved in supplying helicopters that were used as gunships, pilots, troop transportation, fuel and troop barracks.

In the SBS program, Bougainville Copper's Managing Director Peter Taylor rejected all the allegations in the affidavit.

Mr. Taylor told the ABC the program was one-sided.

"They picked on a single issue that is 10 years out of date and they have interviewed people who had a particular interest in promoting the court case in the United States."

Mr. Taylor dismissed comments from Opposition leader Belden Naham that it would be better for a new company to come in and develop the mine.

"Our property rights are enshrined in legislation so that shouldn't be an issue."

He was confident of gaining support for the mine.

"There are very few landowners, I think, who are not prepared to come to the negotiating table."

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