MAC: Mines and Communities

Papuan police wreak havoc on Lihir community

Published by MAC on 2013-03-26
Source: Post Courier (PNG)

Newcrest Mining washes its hands of responsibilty

Disputes between landowner groups in Papua New Guinea are not exceptional and are customarily treated as a civil matter to be resolved by negotiations.

Such conflicts often stem from land and resource appropriation by mining companies, and alleged mis-allocation of mining-related benefits, such as royalties.

Last week, according to Papua New Guinea's Post Courier newspaper, thousands of people were displaced and their property destroyed, after police rampaged through the Lihir village community of Zuen a few weeks earlier.

Lihir hosts one of the Pacific's largest gold mines. This has dominated the lives, livelihoods, and politics of its inhabitants since an exploration licence was granted over the whole island almost 30 years ago.

Later, Rio Tinto assumed control of the mine, but withdrew from management in 2005 (shortly afterwards, selling its then-minority stake in the company).

Five years later, Newcrest Mining of Australia took charge.

Landowner protests

The six major clans on Lihir formed a mining area landowners' association (LMALA) to negotiate a wide range of issues - and potential benefits - linked to this huge extractive project.

According to the association's chairman, Peter Suar, LMALA refuses "to take sides with any single clan or group because of LMALA's very mandate, which is to look after the interests of [its] members".

Suar therefore deplores the police assault on Zuen and its surrounds, saying it displays "total disregard ... for the villagers dignity, welfare, especially women and children who have been displaced ..."

He also strongly condemns Newcrest and the local governmen (NRLLG) for doing nothing to help the affected families. Indeed, says Suar, Newcrest simply dismissed the events at Zuen as a "civil matter unrelated to the mine".

In reality, nothing that happens on Lihir can be dissociated from the social transformations and environmental despoliations that have accompanied, or been created, by this huge project.

Lihir and Bougainville

Just a day before Mr Suar's allegations were published by the Post Courier, Bougainville ex-militant Chris Uma claimed that the Panguna mine had been at the root of the civil war on this other mineral-rich Papua New Guinean island, which cost the lives of up to 20,000 civilians.

Whether Rio Tinto, which operated Panguna through its Australian subsidiary, will one day acknowledge full responsibility for the key role it played  in generating and deepening that conflict, remains a burning question. It's one raised in another posting on our site this week. See: Bougainville: The war of words continues over mine re-opening.

According to researcher, Kristian Laslett, a major contributing factor to the war - one which cannot be separated from Rio Tinto's dominating presence on Bougainville -was the confrontation between two broad groups of Panguna landowners.

On the one hand stood the armed "revolutionaries" who wanted the mine closed after compensation demands had been summarily rejected. On the other hand were "moderates" who wanted to negotiate a new mining deal. (See: Kristian Laslett: "Wining Hearts and Mines: The Bougainville Crisis" in Contemporary State Terrorism: Theory and Practice, Routledge  2009, pps. 142-162).

Will they ever learn?

When making its first gold pour on Lihir in 1996, Rio Tinto already had seven years bitter experience of how a mining project can tear apart Papua New Guinean tribal communities.

It's possible that, as tensions between the Lihir mining lease landowners, workers, and the company markedly increased over the past decade, Rio Tinto forsaw further troubles ahead, thus wasn't that unhappy about withdrawing from the project.  (In fact, just a before the company finally got out, two workers were buried alive in a landslide at the mine. See: After the Lihir landslide)

In any event, it would appear that Newcrest has learned nothing from Rio Tinto's recent sorry experiences in the South Pacific.

Meanwhile, Rio Tinto itself continues bulwarking Freeport's Grasberg operations in neighbouring Papua, which have imposed more than a fair share of grief on local communities. See: More deaths around Freeport's notorious Grasberg mine

When will these companies ever get it right?

[Commentary by Nostromo Research, 23 March 2013].

PNG Police wreak havoc in Lihir

Post Courier (PNG)

20 March 2013

PORT MORESBY, PNG - Thousands of people are now displaced and thousands of Kina worth of property destroyed after police rampaged through a community in Lihir a few weeks ago.

The small village community of Zuen is now literally deserted after members of the Kokopo based Mobile Squad 15 conducted a so-called ‘eviction' exercise by forcefully removing villagers from their houses, pulling houses down, cutting trees and crops and causing damage amounting to thousands of Kina.

Based on statements given by Lihir Mining Area Landowners Association (LMALA) Chairman Mr Peter Suar, everyone is aware of the customary land disputes that are now becoming frequent between clans and various groups on Lihir, but he assured all stakeholders that LMALA's official position has always been that they will not be involved and take sides with any single clan or group because of LMALA's very mandate, which is to look after the interests of their members, who belong to the six (6) major clans on Lihir.

Suar stated that the recent eviction exercise on the piece of land at Zuen village known as "Niatam" by heavily armed Mobile Squad members from Kokopo numbering in excess of 30, over a customary land dispute between Nielik and Tinetalgo Clans (which is a civil matter) has raised very serious concerns for LMALA because of the total disregard by police for the villagers dignity, welfare, especially women and children who have been displaced and who had to flee into the bushes and live there for these past few days.

He further aired his concerns that Newcrest Mining Limited and NRLLG have done nothing to intervene and help the affected families and for this LMALA strongly condemns the inaction of these two entities.

"The eviction exercise has affected many innocent families in the affected village and also families from the neighbouring villages. Many innocent people are rumored to have been assaulted and threatened unnecessarily by the police officers in full combat gear, causing fear and intimidation amongst the people of Lihir," he said.

He further stated that in light of the cries for help and the plight of the affected people, LMALA has engaged their lawyers to seek urgent enforcement of the human rights of the effected people by announcing that an Interim Restraining Order has been granted by the National Court on Monday 11, March 2013 stopping all eviction exercises by the police in Zuen village as well as the neighbouring villages.

"The matter has currently been returned to the National Court at which time our lawyers will make appropriate representations," he said.

A spokesman for the principle land owner who was still in hiding communicated to the Post-Courier and called on the New Ireland government to intervene.

"It has been nearly a month now and our members of parliament have not intervened in this case. What could have been a minor case that could have been solved civily and within our community has now blown out of proportion. What the affected people of Zuen want is normalcy, peace and justice for what has been done to their community," he said.

Post-Courier contacted Newcrest concerning the matter and got the reply from a spokeperson that "It is inappropriate to comment as it is a civil matter unrelated to the mine."

Police representatives on the other hand could not comment when contacted by Post-Courier, as they couldn't be reached.

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