Solomons, Aus Mine In Negotiations To Give Ownership To Solomon Gov

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Layoffs and security concerns have company contemplating move

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, August 22, 2014) – Solomon Islands' Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo says the Australian-operated Gold Ridge mine remains viable despite recent security concerns and mass lay offs.

Unrest around the mine site in central Guadalcanal has escalated in recent days, leading to the evacuation of all of Gold Ridge's expatriate staff.

Mr Darcy Lilo has told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program that Gold Ridge's owner St Barbara is in talks to hand over the mine to the Solomon Islands Government.

"St Barbara is a very respected company, but up until recently they have now come to a point where they have decided to negotiate with the government to hand over the investment back to the Solomon Islands Government and we respect that," he said.

Operations at Gold Ridge were suspended in April this year due to torrential rainfall and flooding.

Management has said the security situation around the mine has been a key reason preventing operations from restarting.

But the government says security isn't a problem.

"We have a respected response that has been able to arrest the situation or contain the situation in Gold Ridge and therefore I don't see that as a real issue," Mr Darcy Lilo said.

But the Prime Minister acknowledges that changes need to be made to the mining industry in his country.

"We can work hard to ensure that the regime to regulate the mining sector in Solomon Islands is cleaned up," Mr Darcy Lilo said.

"We (need to) ensure that all stakeholders can see things in a more transparent and accountable way to give greater confidence for better quality and a strong investor to be able to come and develop this gold mine."

Mr Darcy Lilo is in Brisbane where he's attending the Australia Solomon Islands Trade Business Forum and Trade Expo.

He's the keynote speaker at the event and says there are plenty of opportunities for investment in his country.

"We believe that there is a very important tourism product that can be developed," he said.

"We have a natural environment that has not been spoilt even though people have raised a lot of concern about the rate of extraction of the natural forest."

Australian assistance

At the same business event, the Australian Government announced it will be providing Solomon Islands with another $2 million to help in the recovery from April's devastating floods.

The disaster killed 23 people, displaced thousands and caused widespread damage to infrastructure.

Australian Government Senator Brett Mason said the money will be particularly helpful in repairing damaged roads and bridges.

"I visited Solomon Islands days after the disaster and saw firsthand how Australian support was helping to relieve suffering and contribute to the repair of essential infrastructure," he said.

"Now we want to support Solomon Islanders recovery from the economic impact of the floods by helping to restore commercial activity in Honiara and surrounding areas."

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