MAC: Mines and Communities

MEDIA ALERT: Mineral Policy Institute

Published by MAC on 2006-05-04

MEDIA ALERT: Mineral Policy Institute

Embargoes until: 6am Thursday 4th May 2006

Melbourne, Australia

Shareholders join with West Papuans and Bougainvilleans to address Rio Tinto's AGM

Indonesian Environment Forum (WALHI) yesterday launched a damning environmental report on the Rio Tinto joint venture at the Freeport Mine, ahead of shareholder concerns and protests to be held outside the company's Annual General Meeting today.

Based on information never before made public, the report by Indonesia's largest environmental NGO exposes Freeport McMoran's failure to comply with government orders to amend its polluting practices, despite years of official findings that the company is in breach of relevant regulations. WALHI has called for the halt of the Freeport Mine until it can comply with relevant Indonesian Laws, and the prosecution of existing breaches.

Due to systematic repression by security forces funded by Freeport, Indigenous people affected by the operation are limited in their capacity to speak out publicly about the mine's negative impact upon their livelihood.

However recent news that Rio Tinto is considering reopening the Panguna mine, whose social and environmental disasters sparked a civil war, have been met with calls for caution. The International Representative for Bouganville, Moses Havini, has called for radical changes to the destructive environmental and social practices of Rio Tinto and other mining companies operating in the region.

Mr Havini is concerned that the essential commitments and necessary discussions with local people are not taking place.

"Mining companies must radically change their terms of agreement with traditional landowners in the Pacific region. Firstly, further independent environmental impact studies must be carried out before any decisions are made regarding mining in Panguna. Secondly, the traditional landowners should be given a fair share of any mining venture, and their right to free, prior and informed consent for any developments respected. Thirdly, mining companies in the Pacific must not pump their tailings any more into the river systems or into the seas," Mr Havini said.

Ethical Shareholders, such as John Poppins, are concerned that Rio Tinto is failing to meet even its own policy commitments.

"We want assurance our company does not seek exemptions to applicable legislation and that they will immediately comply with the relevant national laws, as well as the company's own publicly stated commitments," Mr Poppins said.

Executive Director of the Mineral Policy Institute, Techa Beaumont condemned Rio Tinto for continuing with the same irresponsible conduct that sparked a tragic 10 year civil war on the island of Bougainville.

"Shareholders as well as members of the Australian public are seeking a firm indication from Rio Tinto that it will stop the vandalism and unjust dispossession of peoples from their land and resources- actions that are have caused bloodshed and conflict surrounding it's projects."

"The Australian government needs to take action to ensure no Australian company can breach or buy their way around the applicable laws and standards, and must prevent mining projects such as Freeport and Panguna from having devastating and destabilizing impacts on the peoples of our region." Ms Beaumont said.

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