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Illegal miners, aggressive landowners disrupting operations

By Jeffrey Elapa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, April 2, 2012) – Soldiers will be deployed to the resource-rich Southern Highlands and Enga provinces of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to help police maintain law and order.

They will also help police deal with disruptions to mining activities by landowners.

The National Executive Council made the decision after landowners disrupted early works associated with the PNG liquefied natural gas (LNG) project.

Last week, a group of illegal miners also invaded the Porgera gold mine site injuring employees and damaging property. It halted operations at the open pit mine.

A source at the mine told The National last night that "production at the open pit had been halted as the number of illegal miners had built up again to unsafe levels."

Mine management will work closely with police to reduce the number of illegal miners. Mill production was continuing from stockpiles, the source said.

It is not clear how many soldiers will be deployed.

PNG Defense Force (PNGDF) Commander Brigadier General Francis Agwi left for Mendi last Thursday, accompanied by senior officers, to assess the situation on the ground before the troops moved in.

Porgera mine manager Greg Walker had called on the government to intervene after the open pit was raided by illegal miners - people who break into the mine site and independently mine its gold ore.

"We are calling on them to act swiftly to restore law and order in Porgera," Walker said last Thursday.

Chief Secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc met with PNGDF chief of operations Col. Walter Enuma and acting Deputy Police Commissioner Jim Wan yesterday to discuss the deployment of troops.

Advance teams for Tari and Porgera will be dispatched today.

[PIR editor’s note: Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has said that ‘hooligans’ cannot be allowed ‘to threaten normalcy and vital economic projects’ in PNG. Enga Governor Peter Ipatas said more than a thousand illegal miners, ‘who went on a violent rampage within the grounds of the mine,’ must be brought to justice. Tension continues to escalate as landowners also factor into defense considerations after frustrations over payments and compensation for LNG land usage.]

The highlands is considered volatile and police had observed a build-up of arms in the region ahead of the general election in June.

Roadblocks were set up in the LNG project area after a landslide killed 29 villagers at the Tumbi quarry. ExxonMobil had said it closed operations there months before the landslide.

The region is important because it has billions of kina worth of resources.

"It is totally unacceptable that law and order has broken down in those areas," Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said while announcing the troops’ call-out last Friday.

"Such behavior has placed the lives of innocent people at risk, and disrupted work at the LNG project and operations at a mine that is a key contributor to the national economy," O’Neill said.

"We cannot sit back and allow hooligans in our community to threaten and disrupt normalcy, and place vital economic projects at risk.

"We must bring these situations under control quickly and reassure our citizens and investment partners of our ability and commitment to addressing law and order issues decisively.

"No criminal behavior that threatens the well-being of the country will be tolerated."

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