MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling asks: did Rio Tinto fund war on Bougainville?

Published by MAC on 2011-07-04
Source: Statement, The National, The Age

Whatever Michael Somare might have done in office (or out of it) over the past 22 years, as the first prime minister of Papua New Guinea he undoubtedly displayed "fibre" in negotiating the terms of the country's independence from Australia.

Not least in 1972, when his government forced a radical revision of the agreement,  brokered five years earlier by Australia with Rio Tinto, to enable the Panguna copper-gold mine on Bougainville to proceed.

Last month Sir Michael swore an affidavit accusing Rio Tinto of having financed, and virtually master-minded, the war by Papua New Guinea against Bougainville that followed an indigenous  landowers' revolt against the mine in late 1988.

In response, Axel Sturm - self-styled president of the European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper (ESBC) - damned Sir Michael in language veering well onto the rocks of libel.

Mr Sturm accused Somare of being behind a US alien tort case mounted by Panguna landowners against Rio Tinto, and of bribing the law firm that's been pressing their suit for the past decade.

In an official ESBC press release on 26 June 2011, Sturm said :"I consider [Somare] as a poor, delirious old man who is more and more out of his mind."

In the meantime, however, some influential Papua New Guineans have rallied to Sir Michael's side.

These include Central Bougainville MP, Jim Miringtoro (see below) and, more importantly, Jerry Singarok who was head of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force when it waged its bloody war upon the island.

Now a businessman in Port Moresby, Singarok told Australian TV's "Dateline" programme,  screened on 26 June 2011:

"...I am not surprised [at Somare's claims] because Rio Tinto and Bougainville Copper Ltd were the big guns, the bigger players in Bougainville at the time and money speaks, money is power and they had so much influence over the decision making process".

Sturm in a tea-cup?

We may well question the role that Mr Sturm himself has played in recent years, as he zealously pushed for Rio Tinto's return to Bougainville.

He and his band of shareholders aren't exactly cloaked in transparency.

Sturm issues his pontifications from Andorra, a small Pyrenees tax refuge for the rich whose residents benefit from some of the biggest tax breaks anywhere.

And, as he peered down from his Alpine fastness, Mr Sturm has never raised a single objection to anything done by Rio Tinto in its 21 years of operating on benighted Bougainville.

[London Calling is published by Nostromo Research. Views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of any other party, including the editorial board of MAC. Reproduction is welcomed, provided full acknowledgment is given to source].

ESBC President Calls Sir Michael Somare A Delirious Old Man!

The European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper (ESBC) Press Release

26 June 2011

"Sir Michael Somare is old, he is obviously too old to rule a country in development" said ESBC President Axel G. Sturm last week-end in Andorra. Mr. Sturm refers to allegations Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister made in an Australian TV network report that had been quoted by the popular Australian newspaper "The Age" yesterday. In this interview Somare accuses Rio Tinto of having caused the civil war in Bougainville.

Panguna mine on Bougainville
            Panguna mine on Bougainville - Source: The National

"It is sad to see that Mr. Somare did not retire on the summit of his political career," says Mr. Sturm, "he could have avoided to be sentenced for misconduct in office earlier this year (see: Furthermore: he perhaps wouldn't have made such infamous statements as he did. I consider him as a poor, delirious old man who is more and more out of his mind."

Under the leadership of Sir Michael Somare Papua New Guinea became one of the worst and most dangerous places to live in the world. His government is allegedly one of the most corrupt ones worldwide.

Sir Michael is also supposed to be behind the so called US Law Suit in California. Insiders allege strong personal financial interest of the Somare family in these activities. . In the US there are heavy penalties for any American company including law firms bribing people in other countries to secure business. The ESBC will ask for an audit by FBI or other agencies on the California law firm's accounts. The audit should check if any bribes were paid to Sir Michael Somare and any others in PNG. We understand there are severe penalties applicable. The case would automatically get thrown out if it was found some bribes were paid by the US law firm or its agents/associates.

Actually Sir Michael's son, PNG Minister Arthur Somare, faces investigations on misconduct in office and embezzlement of public funds (see: and his second son was even recently arrested as suspect in a murder case (see:

Axel G. Sturm: "My own investigations on the ground in PNG gave no evidence at all that Rio Tinto or Bougainville Copper might have been involved - directly or indirectly - into the cruelties during the "Bougainville Crises". In so far we strongly back the statement of Chairman Peter Taylor. We believe that Somare only wants to undermine ABG President Momis' brave and successful politics that might help Bougainville to become independent from PNG in the near future."

Please watch the controversial SBS report on:

Axel G. Sturm (President)
Atic 1 Carrer de la Canya 7AD700 Escaldes-Engordany
Principality of Andorra / Europe
Phone: +376 82 88 87
Fax: +376 82 88 57

Rio Tinto caused war: Somare

By Brian Thomson

The Age (Australia)

26 June 2011

PAPUA New Guinea's Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, has accused Australian mining giant Rio Tinto and its subsidiary Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) of being behind the PNG military's bloody suppression of Bougainville rebels opposed to the company's Panguna copper mine.

An affidavit written by Sir Michael when he was Opposition Leader in 2001 - and never made public - alleges that Rio played an active role in military operations that ultimately led to a civil war and blockade of the island in which 15,000 people died between 1989 and 1997.

''Because of Rio Tinto's financial influence in PNG, the company controlled the government,'' Mr Somare's affidavit states.

''The government of PNG followed Rio Tinto's instructions and carried out its requests … BCL was directly involved in the military operations on Bougainville, and it played an active role. BCL supplied helicopters, which were used as gunships, the pilots, troop transportation, fuel and troop barracks.''

The Somare affidavit was lodged as part of an ongoing class action in the United States by the islanders against Rio Tinto.

The case has been bogged down in legal argument for 10 years, preventing much of the evidence, including the Somare affidavit, from being made public. In his signed statement, Sir Michael claims that without Rio Tinto, there would never have been a war.

''It is my opinion that absent Rio Tinto's mining activity on Bougainville or its insistence that the Panguna mine be re-opened, the government would not have engaged in hostilities or taken military action on the island.'' The affidavit will complicate Rio Tinto's current attempts to reopen the mine, which is being supported by Sir Michael's government.

Sir Michael was unaware that SBS's Dateline program had obtained his signed statement from sealed US court material until his office was contacted this week. Sir Michael is recovering from double heart surgery in Singapore and his office was unable to say if he still stood by his comments.

The ailing leader's statement reinforces claims from the islander litigants and former rebels that Rio Tinto had a hand in the military's efforts.

Sam Kauona, a former fighter, said: ''It didn't surprise me, all the time we knew.

''We knew that BCL was financing this war on Bougainville because when we were fighting … all the BCL vehicles were being used by the security forces.''

Panguna landowner, former rebel and local chief Philip Miriori said Sir Michael's statement backs up his long-standing claims about Rio's complicity with the PNG military.

BCL chief executive Peter Taylor was aware of the affidavit, but said he was surprised Sir Michael would ''make these accusations knowing they're completely unfounded''.

Brian Thomson's report on the war in Bougainville screens on Dateline on SBS1 at 8.30 tonight.

Rio Tinto must come clean on Bougainville war

Green Party Media Release - Spokesperson Scott Ludlam

28 June 2011

Rio Tinto must reveal the full extent of its involvement in the Bougainville war, the Australian Greens said today in the wake of revelations Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister has given evidence under oath on the decisive role of the company's subsidiary in the conflict.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the Australian Government must also explain its own role in the war, and what it knew about the role of Rio Tinto subsidiary Bougainville Copper Limited in the conflict that claimed 15,000 lives.

"The out-going Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Michael Somare, while Leader of the Opposition in 2001, stated in a sworn affidavit that BCL was the driving force behind the military action in Bougainville, and the blockade of the island, to re-open the copper mine. His view has been backed by the former head of PNG defence Major General Jerry Singirok. In light of these revelations, as BCL's parent company, Rio Tinto must come clean on Bougainville," said Senator Ludlam.

Mr Somare's evidence is part of an on-going class action in the US against Rio Tinto which began in 2001, brought by victims of the conflict.

"Mr Somare has said under oath that Rio Tinto demanded the blockade of Bougainville and military action, and that BCL provided helicopters, transport, fuel, barracks and pilots for the PNG Government's war against the Bougainville rebels. If this is found to be true, will Rio Tinto compensate the victims of this war? And what was the involvement of our own Government in this?"

Senator Ludlam said the Bougainville copper mine provided the PNG Government with about 20 percent of its revenue while the Bougainville locals' gain from the mine was a derisory amount of income and a ruined environment. This led to local resistance and the PNG government responded with a brutal crack-down.

"This war drove half the population of Bougainville from their homes. By 1995, 64,000 people were in refugee camps. Ten per cent of the population died. The Australian Government was supplying weapons and training to the PNG army while the PNG government vowed to kill anyone who broke a blockade on the island, a blockade that kept out medical supplies. This was a horrendous, bloody war on our own doorstep. It's time for the whole truth behind it to be known."

Media Contact: Giovanni Torre - 0417 174 302

MP blames Rio Tinto for mine losses

By Jeffrey Elapa

The National (PNG)

29 June 2011

CENTRAL Bougainville MP Jim Miringtoro has blamed Rio Tinto, the former operator of the now-closed Bougainville copper mine, for the losses.

He said the company and the government of Australia were directly involved in the Bougainville crisis and used the PNG government to start a war against its own people for the benefit of the company.

Miringtoro said the Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare had revealed that Rio Tinto was directly involved and responsible for the war on the island as reported on the television network SBS.

He said more than 15,000 people including PNG defence force soldiers died during the crisis when it started in 1988 and which lasted 15 years.

“The Australian Government and Rio Tinto used the government to declare war on its citizens as a tool to protect itself, and not the lives of the citizens,’’ he said.

“Somare’s testimony revealed what the people of Bougainville knew of Australia’s and CRA’s (Rio Tinto) involvement in the crisis after destroying the environment and the unfair treatment of landowner,” he said.

Miringtoro said Rio Tinto was not welcome to Bougainville and any intention to reopen the mine by the company with no considerattion for the people would not be allowed.

“We do not want the same pig that destroyed our garden to come back.

“Those pigs are looters and we do not want them in Paguna or Bougainville,” Miringtoro said.

He said the Bougainville government and the people had their own plans to bring other foreign investors.

Miringtoro said the problem in Bougainville was no different from other mining operations in the country.

He said the foreign companies had no regard for the welfare and the lifestyle of the landowners as wel. And they did not respect the environment.

He said the big companies mistreated and suppressed the people, dictated and controlled  the government to allow them to continue destroying the environment and the people.

Miringtoro said although Peter Taylor continued to deny their involvement in the crisis, the truth remained as revealed by Somare.

“I thank the Grand Chief Sir Michael for being honest in revealing the truth. He is a true leader and he could have solved the crisis the Melanesian way if he was the prime minister,” he said.

Quotes From Rio Tinto Managers Back Somares Claim Company Promoted War

Ramumine Word Press

5 July 2011

Quotes from Rio Tinto managers back Somare's claim company promoted war
While Rio Tinto Director Peter Taylor last week described as "completely unfounded" the sensational accusations from Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Michael Somare, that the mining company was responsible for the war on Bougainville that killed 15,000 people, quotes from Rio Tinto managers, published in an account of the war by academic Kristen Lasslett, appear to confirm Somare's statements.

Somare has said that "because of Rio Tinto's financial influence in PNG, the company controlled the government. The government of PNG followed Rio Tinto's instructions and carried out its requests ... BCL was directly involved in the military operations on Bougainville, and it played an active role. BCL supplied helicopters, which were used as gunships, the pilots, troop transportation, fuel and troop barracks."

One BCL manager quoted by Lasslett confirmed that Rio Tinto endorsed the heavy handed tactics of PNG's riot squads and supported their operations.

"We knew the riot squads were heavy handed, that was well known in PNG ... you threw a rock at them you would getten rocks thrown back ... We knew that the heavy handed approach wouldn't work if they were there long term. It was a case, somebody has to come ... and put a lid on things before it gets out of hand"

"There were absolutely no arrangements for accommodation, no arrangements for messing, or transportation, so it was expected that the company was going to feed, and house, and transport these guys ... [The mobile squads said:) 'If you want us to drive around give us some f*** vehicles [asterisks added]. We are not going to be very effective if we are dying from hunger, we need to be fed ‘. So what do you do?"

Another manager confirmed the mining company's material assistance to the armed forces during the war in the hope their operations would help Rio Tinto get the mine reopened:

"We did everything they [the security forces] asked of us to make their life more comfortable, and better able to manage through, with transport, communications, provisions, whatever, fuel as far as we saw it we were hoping that they were going to solve the situation, so we could start operating again."

This version of events has also been evidenced in internal company documents which indicate how Rio Tinto was not impressed by suggestions from the PNG government that it negotiate a political settlement and preferred a military solution.

When Papua New Guinea's National Executive Committee (NEC) - PNG's cabinet - restrained temporarily the mobile squads, preferring to negotiate a political solution. BCL's reaction was recorded in an internal memorandum of its chairman: "The PM's priority was to "appease" the landowners. I expressed the view that CRA [BCL's parent company] would want to review its assessment of PNG as a place to invest'

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