MAC: Mines and Communities

Inco in New Caledonia/Kanaky: Protests over World Heritage Site Cancellation

Published by MAC on 2002-09-13

French Government cancellation announcement for World Heritage Site application for fragile New Caledonia reefs stuns Kanak leaders, scientists, environmentalists around the world. Government urged to reconsider.

Press Release from Environmental Defense (Hawai'i), MiningWatch Canada, Mineral Policy Institute (Australia), The Wilderness Society (Australia)

September 13 2002


Australia: Geoff Evans 61 2 938 755 40
Christine Milne (Wilderness Society) 61 418 127 151
Canada: Catherine Coumans 1-613-569-3439
Hawai'i/USA: Stephanie Fried 1 808 262-7128


Organizations from around the world expressed shock and disappointment at the surprise announcement by the French Minister of Environment that the French government now plans to withdraw its January 2002 request for UNESCO World Heritage Site protection for the New Caledonia/Kanaky reef ecosystem - the second largest barrier reef system in the world (after Australia's Great Barrier Reef).

In a sudden reversal of official policy, Roseline Bachelot, the new French Minister of the Environment, stated last week that the UNESCO nomination proposal initiated by the former Minister of the Environment in January is now "a measure that is uninteresting because it has no binding impact." Bachelot stated that, instead of seeking World Heritage designation, France would protect the fragile and unique ecosystem by working with international mining companies - Canada's notorious INCO corporation amongst them - to ensure environmental protection. UNESCO officials, however, have indicated that they have received no notice from the French government of any change in the status of the nomination.

Speaking in Noumea on the occasion of the company's centennial, INCO's CEO Scott Hand predicted a 100 year future for INCO in New Caledonia following the 100 year history of the company in Canada.

"In Canada, Inco is in serious conflict with both citizens and the government as a result of decades of heavy metal contamination of the air and soil around its operations." says Dr. Catherine Coumans, Research Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. "Residents of Port Colborne launched a class action law suit against Inco because of heavy metal contamination of the air and soil in the town. Citizens now face an 8-40% higher than acceptable risk of cancer in Port Colborne, but INCO is fighting the Ministry of the Environment's order that the company clean up the heavily contaminated soil and homes in the area. Government studies have now also identified unacceptable levels of arsenic and metals, such as nickel, copper, and cobalt, in the Sudbury area where INCO operates."

"We respectfully urge the French government to reconsider the decision announced by the Minister of Environment," said senior scientist Dr. Stephanie Gorson Fried of Environmental Defense, Hawai'i. "The international spotlight and public support generated by a World Heritage nomination serves as an important tool for the protection of reef ecosystems - and the traditional fishers who depend on them - from the environmental impacts likely to be associated with the massive new mining operations, such as the INCO mine planned for New Caledonia.

A recent official assessment of INCO's mining permit application, carried out by INERIS (The National Institute of Industrial Environment and Risks) for New Caledonia's Southern Province, found that the plans for the treatment of mine waste are "relatively finalized for the period of exploitation up to five years" but "outside of that period, it seems difficult to make relevant statements about the expected layout arrangements."

The French announcement was made shortly after a Paris visit by New Caledonia strongman and Governor of the Southern Province, Jacques LaFleur. According to a senior French official who wished to remain anonymous, the cancellation - if it occurs - would be of significant benefit to international mining operations and would likely be the direct result of LaFleur's pressuring the French government.

Last Friday, in New Caledonia, over 3,000 Kanak leaders, environmentalists, human rights activists, and ordinary citizens held a demonstration to demand that LaFleur's Southern Province withdraw its latest mine prospecting license for Canada's INCO nickel corporation and draft strong environmental laws. Protestors demanded that the French government continue to seek UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for New Caledonia's extraordinarily fragile barrier reef ecosystem.

"The environmental record of multinational mining companies in the Asia Pacific region is very poor. We are particularly concerned about the practice of allowing mine wastes and effluents to flow into rivers and seas. These practices are a threat to marine and coral reef environments and are illegal in the companies' home countries. It is hard to see how a company with INCO's poor record can be trusted as a partner in environmental protection," said Geoff Evans, Director of the Mineral Policy Institute in Sydney, Australia.

New Caledonia, also called Kanaky, is a territory of France, which contains at least 30% of the world's nickel ore and 75% of the reefs and lagoons under French control. Identified by the prestigious British scientific journal, Nature, as one of the world's top "biodiversity hotspots", over 76% of the country's plant species are endemic and are found nowhere else on earth. Surrounding the world's largest lagoon, the New Caledonia/Kanaky reef system occupies close to 10 million acres or over 40,000 km2. New Caledonia researchers are continually discovering marine species previously unknown to science in these rich waters. This fragile reef and lagoon ecosystem also provides sustenance for a range of traditional small-scale fishermen.

French, Australian, American, and Canadian contractors are poised to begin the construction of the $1.4 billion INCO nickel-cobalt mining facility in New Caledonia, utilizing an unproven, dangerous Pressure Acid Leach (PAL) technology in an area located adjacent to fragile reef systems proposed for nomination as a World Heritage Site.

Under such conditions of clear environmental, political, and commercial risk, it is likely that mega-mining companies such as INCO are seeking methods of shifting the risk burden to the public sector. For example, the French government's Agence Française de Développement has provided millions of euros of loans for infrastructure support for INCO's operations. Some of the AFD funds, while approved, have not yet been disbursed pending the outcome of an "environmental assessment". INCO and other international mining operations are thought to be seeking additional public export credit finance for what appear to be environmentally destructive and socially disruptive plans.

Jamie Kneen Communications Coordinator
Wellington St., Suite 508
Ottawa, Ontario K1R 6K7
ofc. (613) 569-3439
cell: (613) 761-2273 880
fax: (613) 569-5138

Inco in New Caledonia: Protests Erupt Over Shut Down of Prony and Goro

Catherine Coumans, Ph.D.

September 16, 2002

Prony, Inco's Troubled New Concession:

In July of this year, Inco was suddenly granted a six-year exploration permit (PRA) for a massive concession called Prony, which is adjacent to Inco's current Goro site in southern New Caledonia. Inco says this new concession could provide an additional 180,000 tonnes of nickel per year (Goro is expected to produce 57,000 tonnes of nickel per year). According to the president of the territorial government, Pierre Frogier, Inco could be ready to start mining Prony in 6-7 years (Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes, Aug. 28, 2002).

The sudden granting of the Prony concession to Inco came as a major surprise to New Caledonians - especially to indigenous Kanak leaders, who have continuously complained that they were never adequately consulted by Inco and their own government agencies over the Goro development. Kanak leaders have repeatedly protested the lack of consultation over Goro, including in a meeting with Inco officials (Stubbs and Napier) in Toronto in October of 2001 (see "What's Inco Doing in New Caledonia"). Kanak leaders point to the 1998 Noumea Accord that puts New Caledonia on the path to independence and that assures that Kanak perspectives and rights be respected through consultation over projects that will have an impact on traditional practices and values and relationships to the land and the sea. Brewing unrest over Goro (lack of consultation, thousands of jobs going to imported foreigners, environmental concerns see below) has now broken out in full-fledged protests against Inco's exploration rights for Prony.

"Collective for Defence and Control of the Prony Heritage": In August a powerful coalition was formed in New Caledonia in protest of the granting of Prony to Inco. This coalition is called the Collective for Defence and Control of the Prony Heritage (CDCPH). The Collective is an umbrella organization that is made up of political parties of a wide range of political persuasions, trade unions, environmental groups, traditional landowners, feminist groups, human rights groups and indigenous organizations. Its spokesperson, Bernard Duparc, belongs to the Parti Socialiste de Kanaky.

On August 29th the Collective organized a massive protest march in the capital city of Noumea. At least 3000 people took part (see pictures). The protest had three goals:

A petition with over 10,000 signatures was handed to vice-President Pierre Bretegnier of the Southern Province, the number of signatories is still growing. The petition asks the Southern Province to revoke the Prony prospecting license. Bretegnier apparently reacted to the protest saying Inco had made the best offer (around 22 million US dollars) for the site compared to BHP and Phelps Dodge (PacNews September 2, 2002). But the pro-independence FLNKS party and the Union of Kanak and Exploited Workers (USTKE) both said the prospecting license was tantamount to giving away New Caledonia's mineral resources: "This is totally unacceptable and unjustifiable. This deprives New Caledonia of its mining resources" said USTKE secretary general Gerard Jodar (PacNews September 2, 2002). Human Rights League spokesperson Elie Poigoune said the population had been "ill-informed" on recent decisions regarding Prony and that "no serious impact survey" had been carried out on the site (Ocean Flash, August 29,2002).

The "Collective" is calling for another demonstration for September 27th. Subjugation of Indigenous Kanak Rights:

A significant component to the protest is the recognition that indigenous Kanak rights have been violated through the granting of the Prony prospecting license.

Inco Versus Falconbridge:

An interesting aspect of the protest of August 29th was the participation and presence of heavy equipment from Falconbridge's Koniambo mine site in the Northern Province of New Caledonia. Koniambo workers fear that Inco's control over the nickel resources of both Goro and Prony will put the Koniambo project, which is a partnership with the government of the poorer Northern Province, out of business.

Goro shut down, Inco does not provide shareholders and public with accurate information:

Blockade of Goro Site:

On Monday September 9th a protest blockade was called of the Goro site and simultaneously some contract workers went on strike. By Friday the 13th Inco had shut down operations, reportedly for indefinite time, and about 100 Australian BTH personnel have flown home. Reports in Canada's Globe and Mail of the 13th merely mention actions by "local contractors and suppliers" as the cause of the shut down. Inco has not provided shareholders or stakeholders with an accurate view of the broad based and long term nature of the local protests. Former government member and indigenous Kanak leader Raphael Mapou said that "without consent from the Custom [Customary Senate] the Goro Mine will not open" (PacNews September 2, 2002).

Imported Workers Issue:

One of the major sources of friction is the fact that New Caledonian laws were recently changed to facilitate the importation of some 3000 foreign workers at the Goro site, mostly Filipinos (Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes: Aug. 28,2002). The planned departure for Noumea, on September 22, of the first 22 Filipino workers with BHP in Manila has been halted until further notice. BHP has also halted the hiring process in Manila and complains that this is the first time the company has had to halt a hiring process in mid stream (Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes: September 16, 2002). World Heritage Status for the New Caledonian Reefs:

In January 2002, the French government recognized the value of the New Caledonian reef system the second largest barrier reef system in the world by requesting UNESCO World Heritage Site protection. Jacques LaFleur, New Caledonian strongman and Governor of the Southern Province where Inco's concessions are located, has vehemently opposed the process to seek World Heritage status. It is widely believed that World Heritage status would impact on Inco's planned operations as Inco expects to dump mine effluent into the sea.

Shortly after a recent visit by LaFleur to Paris, and in a reversal of official policy, the new French Minster of the Environment, Roseline Bachelot stated that the World Heritage proposal is now "a measure that is uninteresting because it has no binding impact." She also noted that France would work with international mining companies to ensure environmental protection in New Caledonia.

UNESCO notes that it has not yet been asked by the French government to drop the World Heritage process for the New Caledonian reefs.

Financial Question Marks:

Currently the French Government (through Bureau de Recherches Geologiques et Minieres (BRGM)) owns 15% of the Goro project. In an agreement in principle with a consortium led by Sumitomo Metal Mining Company Ltd., Sumitomo will buy up 25% of the project and Inco has agreed to buy back the French Government's 15%, which it now says it expects to have purchased by the fourth quarter of 2002 (Nickel Australasia: August 21, 2002). At the same time, the strongman of the Southern Province, Jacques LaFleur, has been having meetings with French Minister of Economy, Finance and Industry, Francis Mer, on the purchase of the BRGM stake by New Caledonia. The French group Eramet has already made an offer for the 15% share but the price has not been revealed (Nickel Australasia: August 21, 2002).

Problems in Indonesia - Inco over-committed Financially?

Inco is also facing ongoing demonstrations against its planned expansion in Sulawesi, Indonesia. According to its Contract of Work, Inco must conduct exploration activities at its operations in Central Sulawesi. The affected communities of One Pute Jaya and Bahumotefe are actively opposing intrusions on their land. Chief Executive Officer of PT Inco, Edward Hodkin complains that instability in the region has made it impossible to secure the necessary financing "This makes it impossible for us to conduct exploration in Sulawesi" (SKH Nuansa pos-Rabu, August 7, 2002). A local House of Representatives member and veteran politician, Yus Mangun, has stated that if Inco cannot fulfill its exploration commitments "they should just back out - there is [sic] still many foreign investors that want to invest their capital in Central Sulawesi" (SKH Nuansa pos-Rabu, August 7, 2002).

There is some question whether Inco's apparent inability to secure funding for work in Central Sulawesi is solely related to political unrest or whether Inco has prioritized finding financing for Voisey's Bay and the New Caledonian concessions.

EIA process and permitting update

In March Goro's EIA (Installation Classee) was released by the New Caledonian government for a one month public commentary period. Kanak leaders (the Senat Coutumier) and local NGOs called for an independent scientific review of the EIA. On November 21, 2001, nine Kanak leaders, representing the entire Kanak population and landowners around Goro, signed a petition calling for a two year moratorium on the Goro development to allow time for a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social risks involved. (See our January press release.) Between April and July of this year representatives of two French government agencies, INERIS (Institut National de l'Environnement et des Risques) and IFREMER (Institut Francais de Researche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer) studied all aspects of the Goro operation on behalf of the New Caledonian and French governments. On August 10th the results were presented in a press release.

The INERIS report outlines 38 recommendations. Among other flaws, the report indicates clear gaps in the necessary baseline data needed to evaluate potential impacts on fauna, flora and marine sediments as a result of marine disposal of process effluents. INERIS identified:

To date, Inco has not received the necessary operating permits but this has not stopped the company from starting construction at the site.

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