MAC: Mines and Communities

B'ville Class Action Gains Momentum

Published by MAC on 2005-07-01
Source: Postcourier

B'ville class action gains momentum


1 July 2005

Lawyers involved in the multi-million class action lawsuit by Bougainvilleans against Rio Tinto Zinc - major shareholder in the Bougainville Copper Ltd - are on their way to Bougainville.

The team from the United States of America, led by Brent Walton of Hagens & Berman Sobol Shapiro, have arrived in Port Moresby and are expected to travel to Bougainville in the next few days.

They want to meet with key national leaders in Port Moresby prior to having an audience with Autonomous Bougainville President Joseph Kabui.

Mr Walton was one of the lawyers representing plaintiffs Alexis Holyweek Sarei, Paul E. Nerau, Thomas Tamuasi, Philip Miriori, Gregory Kopa, Methodius Nesiko, Aloysius Moses, Raphael Niniku, Gabriel Tareasi, Linus Takinu, Leo Wuis, Michael Akope, Benedict Pisi, Thomas Kobuko, John Tamuasi, Norman Mouvo, John Osani, Ben Korus, Namira Kawona, Joan Bosco, John Pigolo and Magdalene Pigolo on the multi-million dollar damages lawsuit against RTZ for genocide and environmental damage.

The lawsuit surfaced during Moresby North-West MP Sir Mekere Morauta's term as Prime Minister. Sir Mekere had warned that the class action filed in the Federal District Court of California - if successful - would not be enforceable in Papua New Guinea because of the Compensation Act.

When Sir Michael Somare assumed office after the 2002 elections, he gave his blessings for the class action to go ahead on questions by then Bougainville Regional MP John Momis.

The irony was that American judge Justice Margaret Morrow had already dismissed the claim.

The trip to Bougainville follows Mr Kabui's announcement placing the future of the Panguna copper mine as a priority of his government.

Bougainville, despite the major fanfare about the autonomous arrangements, does not have much of an internal revenue base.

Mr Kabui said he wanted to make use of the fact that Central Bougainville MP Sam Akoitai is currently the Mining Minister to resolve the "sensitive issue of Bougainville Copper Limited".

A negotiation with the National Government and BCL as soon as practical was what he had in mind. Mr Akoitai, in a press statement days after that announcement, indicated he had received a letter from the Bougainville administration advising him of a Cabinet decision to have an urgent review of the Bougainville Copper Agreement Act, 1967.

That letter also requested a moratorium on exploration and mining on Bougainville gazetted on April 22, 1971, to be revoked and the province be cleared for mineral exploration.

Mr Akoitai said he was preparing a submission in consultation with the Attorney-General's office for the National Executive Council to consider that would include the Bougainville Government's request.

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