MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Highland Pacific Under Siege as Local Community Revolts

Published by MAC on 2004-03-16


Highlands Pacific Under Siege as Local Community Revolts

Mineral Policy Institute - Press release

Tuesday 16th March 2004

The town of Kianantu, site of the Kainantu gold mine of Australian run Highlands Pacific Ltd. came under siege on Friday hundreds of angry locals took to the streets, rioting, tearing down walls, looting and turning vehicles over.

Frustration was centred on the offices of the mining company, Highlands Pacific, with PNG's Post Courier reporting an unruly crowd ripping off the roof and looting the company premises as Highlands Pacific staff locked themselves in an office. .

Rioters were angry that Highlands Pacific has been bringing people from outside Kainantu to the area and causing trouble. The complaints from locals add to growing concerns regarding the ability of Highlands, whose success thus far has been limited to exploration, to manage the project in its operational phases. A recent independent review by an Australian scientist criticises the substandard environmental planning by the company, prepared by the dubious Australian consultants 'Natural Systems Resources'.

Local sources say there are growing frustrations at the influx of people from other regions coming in and taking opportunities that should be given to locals. The division of benefits from the mine has been an ongoing source of conflict, dividing the community. The failure to address the complex social and landowner issues before the project begins in earnest is likely to lead to growing violence and civil unrest, inevitably directed at the company. The company has fast tracked the project, despite unresolved disputes between 11 clans who claim interests in the area where the mine is proposed.

Attacks on the mine property were already reported in the environmental plan for the mine- a clear warning of things to come. More recently, at least three people were killed in October last year when police were called in to deal with fighting as a result of landownership conflicts in the Waterais area, where the infrastructure for the mine is to be situated.

Community expectations of the economic opportunities attached to the project such as jobs, money and other benefits are very high. However negative impacts of the mine are already surfacing, with growing social problems such as alcoholism and prostitution, and reported increases in HIV in the area. Locals are wondering if the promised benefits will materialise. Reports from the area are that people from other areas such as the Western and Southern Highlands are being employed, and that locals are being overlooked in contracts the mine is giving out.

Locals express fears that the mine will come in and take what they see as their gold without giving back to the community. Locals have themselves operated a small-scale gold mining industry for many years, which has generated approximately two-thirds of all income in the community and there is increasing concern that the company may simply come in and take away the gold without providing anything adequate in return.

These concerns are in addition to serious environmental management issues that remain unaddressed. An independent review of the mine's environmental management conducted by Dr Gavin Mudd from Monash University has recommended a new or supplementary environmental plan addressing the serious gaps and the numerous changes to the project design be submitted for approval before the mine proceeds.

The review highlighted a critical need for more detailed studies, and also shows major gaps in its assessment and evaluation of the projects risks, posing unnecessary threats to the local environmental and waterways, which are the basis of subsistence livelihoods in the region.

A copy of the review Dr Mudd's independent review is available from MPI.

Media enquiries: Techa Beaumont, 02 9557 9019 or 0409 318 406

Techa Beaumont
Mineral Policy Institute

tel: 02 9557 9019 or 0409 318 406
email: advocacy@mpi.org.au

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