MAC: Mines and Communities

Bougainville: War of words continues over mine re-opening

Published by MAC on 2013-03-26
Source: Green Left, Radio New Zealand, New Matilda

Rio Tinto accused of complicity in earlier human rights atrocities

Citizens of Bougainville, involved in the horrendous military conflict waged on the island for a decade, have been expressing views about the prospective re-opening of the Panguna mine.

In early February 2013, Rio Tinto - the company operating the mine until its forced closurein 1989 - once again indicated it might be favourable to reviving the project.

Chris Uma, former leader of one militant group, has declared that "re-opening Panguna is non-negotiable until...[Bougainville] independence is gained".

But another landowner, Martin Miriori, believes the majority of Bogainvilleans would "support it opening earlier", so long as the government "allocate[s] resources to ensure they are well informed".

Meanwhile, researcher Dr Kristian Laslett has re-iterated claims, based on evidence from former senior managers of the mine, that Rio Tinto provided material assistance to Papua New Guinean forces in order to put down the "revolution".  See: Bougainville Copper's bloody "hidden past" exposed

Bougainville militants oppose Panguna re-opening

Radio New Zealand

19 March 2013

A leader of the Me'ekamui militant group in Papua New Guinea's Bougainville Province, Chris Uma, says his group is opposed to any re-opening of the Panguna mine until after independence has been achieved.

Bougainville is due to hold a referendum on possible independence from 2015.

Mr Uma has told the Post Courier newspaper that discussion on re-opening Panguna is non-negotiable until that vote and independence is gained.

The huge mine was at the centre of the province's civil war and has been closed for 24 years, but there is a drive from several quarters for it to eventually resume production.

Mr Uma, who controls the Me'ekamui faction in central Bougainville where the mine is located, says only after independence is achieved can there be talk about opening the mine.

Last week, the Autonomous Bougainville Government, the ABG, began considering a new Bougainville mining bill, which President John Momis says is being widely circulated for public discussion.

He says the Bougainville constitution requires that the ABG ensures widespread consultations before it makes major new laws.

Bougainville mine reopening would get support before referendum, says landowner

Radio New Zealand

19 March 2013

A landowner in the Panguna region of Papua New Guinea's Bougainville says he thinks the majority would back the Panguna mine re-opening ahead of the referendum on independence.

Martin Miriori was speaking after a Me'ekamui militant group leader, Chris Uma, opposed any discussion on re-opening of Panguna until independence is gained through the vote scheduled from 2015.

Mr Uma says only after independence is achieved can there be talk about opening the mine.

Mr Miriori says the majority would support it opening earlier but the government needs to allocate resources to ensure they are well informed.

"To carry out full awareness throughout Bougainville so that after that awareness, explaining to them the advantages and disadvantages, the good side and the bad side, [and] at the end of the day Bougainvilleans are given the right to decide - plebiscite, and I think Bougainville constitution allows for that. And my feeling is that the majority of people will support the re-opening of the mine."

Bougainville: Rio Tinto faces war crimes allegations in bid to reopen mine

By Kristian Lasslett

Green Left

26 February 2013

British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto is seriously contemplating reopening its Bougainville copper and gold mine, Reuters reported on February 7.

Situated on Papua New Guinea's (PNG) eastern border with the Solomon Islands, the company's Bougainville operation was forcefully closed down in November 1988 by traditional landowners who objected to the mine's environmental and social effects.

A bloody civil war ensued, which took up to 20,000 lives on an island of 175,000 people. The war crimes committed by government security forces in the conflict were horrific.

Bougainvillean nurse, Sister Ruby Mirinka, recalled: "One of the victims was a 24-year-old pregnant woman. Shot dead by the PNG soldiers, her abdomen was then cut open to remove the foetus. The dead foetus was then placed on the chest of the dead mother for all to see - as a warning."

Rio Tinto stands accused of being complicit in these atrocities. In a US class action launched under the Alien Tort Statute, Bougainvillean landowners maintain that Rio Tinto's subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), supplied the military with trucks, fuel, accommodation, storage facilities, mess halls, communications equipment and secretarial services.

These allegations were featured in a hard-hitting Dateline report aired on SBS TV in 2011.

In response, company executives adamantly denied complicity. They claimed Rio Tinto's equipment was commandeered by the defence force after the mine had been abandoned.

BCL director Sir Rabbie Namaliu told The Australian on July 16, 2011: "To suggest that Rio did it deliberately is factually wrong. When I heard about those claims, I thought the whole thing was rather unfair."

Namaliu was prime minister of PNG from 1988 to 1992. Amnesty International said PNG forces stationed in Bougainville during this period took part in extra-judicial killings, village burnings and the rape of women.

Namaliu is hardly an uncompromised source.

There are other problems with his account. For example, I interviewed eight senior managers who worked for BCL during 1987-1992. They were confident the company did supply the defence force with the aforementioned equipment.

One manager told me: "We did everything they [PNG security forces] asked of us to make their life more comfortable, and better able to manage through, with transport, communications, provisions, whatever, fuel.

"You know, we gave them everything, because as a far as we saw it we were hoping that they were going to solve the situation, so we could start operating again. So we supported them every way we could."

Perhaps BCL was unaware of the ends to which this logistic support would be applied? Well, its executives seem fairly cogent on this front too.

One manager recalled: "These guys [PNG security forces] were ignorant thugs with guns. Frightened ignorant thugs with guns. Frightened, ignorant thugs with guns a long way from home."

Another executive remembered surveying the destruction inflicted upon local villages by government forces during April 1989: "Forty, 50 villages, and the crops [were destroyed]. The villages were varying from five or six houses to 20 or 30 houses."

Naturally, Rio Tinto wants to take advantage of skyrocketing copper and gold prices by dusting off its old South Pacific jewel. I am sure they are attracting a degree of community support from war-weary Bougainvilleans looking to rebuild their shattered island.

That said, communities on Bougainville have yet to be fully briefed on Rio Tinto's role in defence force operations during the bloody years of 1988-1990. So it would be difficult to argue that this support is based upon informed consent.

Until Rio Tinto commits to full disclosure, any attempt to reopen the Bougainville mine will be another corporate blight on the deeply scarred people of this Melanesian island.

[Dr Kristian Lasslett is the author of "Wining Hearts and Mines: The Bougainville Crisis",  in "Contemporary State Terrorism: Theory and Practice", published by Routledge in 2009, pps 142-162.

Dr Lasslett is also executive board member of the International State Crime Initiative. The International State Crime Initiative's multi-media presentation on the Bougainville conflict, which includes BCL memorandums and meeting minutes, can be accessed on request]


From Civil War To The Boardroom

By Kristian Lasslett

New Matilda

28 March 2013

PNG politicians in charge during the country's decade-long Bougainville war are landing advisory jobs to Australian mining companies, while the victims still await justice, writes Kristian Lasslet

Internment camps, the mortaring of children, aerial bombardments, assassinations, rape, and the denial of humanitarian aid - these are just some of the criminal state practices endured by civilians during Papua New Guinea's decade-long civil war on the island of Bougainville (1988-1998). No senior official from Australia or PNG has been formally censured, let alone prosecuted, for their involvement in this dirty war.

To compound matters, over the past two years Australian mining companies have appointed to their boards of directors individuals that headed organisations directly responsible for some of the worst atrocities during this dark period. Universities and the media have played a part too, lending cultural capital to various senior players, without a word on the crimes that occurred under their watch.

Perhaps the most overt example to date involves Sir Rabbie Namaliu, who was PNG's prime minister during 1988-1992. Under his prime ministership, the security situation on Bougainville gradually deteriorated, after aggrieved landowners shut down the lucrative Panguna copper and gold mine employing industrial sabotage. The mine was operated by Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), the PNG subsidiary of British-Australian giant Rio Tinto.

Fuelling the violence was a systematic campaign of state terror administered by the Namaliu government. During March/April 1989, state violence was primarily directed at communities believed responsible for the mine attacks - at the time the mine provided 24 per cent of government revenue. Dozens of villages were burnt to the ground by police mobile squad units.

Following these attacks a state of emergency was declared in a bid to combat an emerging insurgency led by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). This allowed the PNG Defence Force to come to the fore. In a series of progressively more brutal counterinsurgency operations, homes on Bougainville were bombarded with mortars - which included white phosphorous rounds - and grenades fired from Australian supplied helicopters. Those suspected of BRA affiliation were taken out and tortured, many were killed.

However, arguably the most harmful action taken by the PNG state under Namaliu's prime ministership, was the decision to place a military blockade around Bougainville in May 1990. Nothing was allowed in, not even medical aid. The humanitarian effects were profound. Drawing on data collected by Bougainvillean doctors, Community Aid Abroad worker, Lissa Evans, warned in 1992 that "over 3000 people have died as a direct consequence of the blockade".

For the PNG state this was a wholly welcomed effect. Indeed, when the government began experimenting with the strategic use of embargoes during late 1989, a senior civil servant told BCL executives, "when people start to feel the hardships in education and health they may start to turn against the militants". This view was again reiterated in an internal planning document, authored by PNG's Department of Defence:

"People are facing hardships as a result of the absence of medical [aid] and basic goods and services ... the government should continually push for peace talks outside of NSP [North Solomons Province], at the same time cut off further shipping, deliberately to worsen the hardships people are already facing."

Was Namaliu aware of the motives underpinning the military blockade of Bougainvlle? As prime minister one would expect so, and his testimony from September 1990 suggests he was complicit. Speaking at a press conference, Namaliu remarked:

"If for instance you look at the situation as it has existed now since March - the level of services in the province has collapsed totally ... So in that sense it is difficult to entrench your position if you don't have the goods to deliver to the people. Eventually the people themselves would get frustrated and will start applying, as they are in fact doing, pressure on you to either resume the services or something else might develop."

Given that the denial of humanitarian aid was coupled to a systematic campaign of torture and killing, all of which occurred under Namaliu's watch, the former PNG prime minister would appear a bad choice for any company wishing to display its social responsibility credentials, especially if that company was itself directly implicated in the Bougainville war.

Yet in early 2011 it was announced that Namaliu had been appointed to the board of BCL - the very company which had fed, housed and helped transport troops as they sacked Bougainvillean villages - earning him K120,000 (A$55,000) annually.

Many others organisations also appear to suffer historical amnesia, including AusAID, Interoil, Marengo Mining, Kramer Ausenco, and Kina Securities, bodies which have all seen fit to appoint Namaliu to their boards (in the case of AusAID, Namaliu sits on their Advisory Panel for the Pacific Leadership Programme).

Additionally, Namaliu is a frequent visitor to the Australian National Univerity (ANU), indeed we are told, "ANU is delighted to have the opportunity to host this esteemed leader and analyst". Namaliu is even part of the editorial team for the ANU journal, Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies.

Of course, were too many fingers pointed in Namaliu's direction, there is every chance the finger would soon be pointed back at Australia, a country whose government placed inordinate pressure on the PNG state to employ military force against the Bougainville revolt. Nevertheless, for mining multinationals, much less premier universities, to uncritically engage a pacific leader who not only presided over the most brutal campaign of state violence witnessed in the region since World War II, but did so in a bid to reopen a mine, speaks volumes about the veneer of "social responsibility".

It would be unfair to focus solely on Namaliu. Indeed, others from the period are also in receipt of largesse from Australian corporates. For example, in February this year Australian miner, Kula Gold, announced that the Bougainvillean businessman, Sam Akoitai, would be joining the Board of their PNG subsidiary Woodlark Mining Limited. While two years before Akoitai was made a non-executive Director at Pacific Niugini.

Indeed, for most of the 1990s Akoitai led the Bougainville Resistance. Set up during 1990-91, the resistance was a feared, loosely knit paramilitary organisation loyal to the national government. A senior PNG civil servant remembers: "He came in as the leader of the Resistance Forces, Sam Akoitai ... We had to deal with him, we had to encourage him, and give him money. In the end he became the best thing, to have the Resistance Forces".

Not everyone would agree. Amnesty International concludes that under Akoitai's Chairmanship the Resistance Forces committed numerous atrocities:

"The Resistance Forces have been responsible for serious human rights violations including unlawful and deliberate killings and "disappearances" of civilians and BRA suspects. They are also alleged to have engaged in intimidation of those wishing to provide information about human rights violations and of government officials over delays in payment of their allowance".

That is not to suggest that Akoitai necessarily ordered or participated in these alleged crimes. Nevertheless, given his senior position, serious questions remain over his responsibility for resistance atrocities.

That these questions have been forgotten, both in the case of Akoitai, Namaliu and many others, suggest a collective amnesia has set in. On the other hand, people on Bougainville remember the death and destruction well. Their stories, however, are gradually being erased from this historical record through a process of willed omission.

Unlike East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and many other post-conflict zones, there has been no truth commission for this war, let alone trials, reparations or indeed basic mental health care. Even attempts by victims to obtain legal redress through PNG's national court system have been blocked, while a class action against Rio Tinto, currently underway in the United States, crawls along at a snail's pace.

Yet in the absence of truth and justice, those individuals who shoulder greatest responsibility for the "widespread" and "systematic" attacks on Bougainvillean civilians (crimes against humanity), not the individual combatants, but their political and military masters, are free to assume corporate and public office.

Meanwhile, many on Bougainville relive painful memories from the war on a daily basis, seemingly forgotten by a world that would rather not know about their trauma, or those responsible for it.

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