MAC: Mines and Communities

New Caledonia Update

Published by MAC on 2006-06-16

New Caledonia Update

16th June 2006

NEW CALEDONIA: Serious Setback For Giant Nickel Mining Project

(Oceania Flash) Canadian mining giant's nickel project in the South of New Caledonia has suffered a significant setback on Wednesday, when a court in Nouméa ruled to void local company Goro-Nickel to operate on the mineral massif.

The exploitation permit had been granted in October 2004 by local authorities of New Caledonia's Southern Province. However, it was challenged by a group of concerned citizens and environmentalists who argued serious environment impact studies had not been performed.

Wednesday's ruling however does not put into question the construction of the Goro-Nickel nickel project (for a capital investment estimated at 1.88 billion US dollars). Construction resumed on the site last year, but it has since encountered staunch opposition from indigenous concern and environmental group "Rheebu Nuu".

The group, on April 2, moved to sabotage some ten million US dollars worth of equipment on the construction site. The site was subsequently occupied for several weeks before French police stepped in to "liberate" it.

Last week, an estimated 2,500 people took to the streets of the capital Nouméa n support of a march to protest against the environmental impacts of the Goro-Nickel project which, organisers said, had not yet been properly assessed.

They say they do not oppose the project per se, but demand that a proper environmental study be carried out.

Other indigenous groups, including a so-called CAUGERN (indigenous council for natural resources management in Kanaky-New Caledonia, Conseil autochtone pour la gestion des ressources naturelles en Kanaky-Calédonie), are also hinting at indigenous royalties claims for the traditional land owners.

Reacting to the court decision on Wednesday, Rheebu Nuu's secretary general Raphaël Mapou said he was "elated" and that the ruling was a strong signal for the respect of environment and of indigenous peoples' rights.

Meanwhile, after the Goro-related unrest in April, the French High Commission and the Southern Province of New Caledonia have called on all stakeholders to take par tin a series of roundtables to discuss environment and development issues and ways to address them.

Meanwhile, New Caledonia is this week celebrating "environment week" as part of the global initiative.

Organisers of local festivities have decided to choose this year the following theme: "Tomorrow, our island: a desert?".

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