MAC/20: Mines and Communities

CRA blamed for Bougainville conflict

Published by MAC on 2001-11-23


The National - 23 November 01

Australia, miner to blame for conflict: Momis

BOUGAINVILLE - John Momis yesterday blamed Australia and its multi-national company Conzinc Rio Tinto, which operated the Panguna Mine, for the Bougainville conflict.

"This crisis was something that was created by the Australian colonial
administration and multi-national company Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia," Mr Momis told Parliament during debate on the Bougainville peace agreement. "In their zeal to raise revenue and to enable PNG to be independent, they dismally failed to take into account the importance of rights of people to land and to own resources and to participate actively in work that the mine created.

"The colonial administration and Conzinc Rio Tinto must accept the blame for the imposition of this problem on PNG. "They were not prepared to listen to the duly elected leaders of Bougainville. "Their only motive was a profit motive. They did not prepare this country well for independence. They did not prepare this country well to establish our own indigenous entrepreneurs.

Conzinc Rio Tinto was very successful in exploiting resources. It provided to the enclave, and paid little consideration to the people in the villages, and by doing so they marginalised the people.

We must listen to the people, the resource owners, because they have no other resources except the PNG resources. Unlike multi-national
corporations who have tentacles all over the world, our people don't have anything else.

The Panguna mine was imposed by the colonial administration not for the benefit of Bougainville, but to help Australia make PNG economically viable in the lead up to independence. The compensation and rent offered by the administration for the land needed for the mine was pitifully low.

"If the Australian colonial administration, and the post-colonial PNG
government, had listened more to the concerns of Bougainvilleans about the mine and the related issue of more autonomy for Bougainville, the conflict would never have occurred."

He said the country has finally come to realise that we have to listen to
the people. "In this instance we have listened adequately to the people of Bougainville. We now stand at the threshold of a new political regime, which is in accordance with the very important principle of subsidiarity. The peace agreement responds to the special situation in post-conflict Bougainville. Several thousands people died in the worst conflict in the Pacific since the end of World War II. Many people were willing to shed their own blood for the goal of independence for Bougainville. If we are to end that conflict for good, we need to offer those people something special, something closer to independence."


Prime Minister explains stand on US lawsuit

By COLIN TAIMBARI

PRIME MINISTER Sir Mekere Morauta has told Parliament that the Government has a right to defend itself in the class action by Bougainville landowners against mining giant Rio Tinto in a United States District Court.

Answering questions by East Sepik Regional MP Sir Michael Somare on the Government's attempt to block the multi-million dollar lawsuit, Sir Mekere said what has happened here in PNG is being taken for a judgment in a foreign country and a foreign court. "Now, that is not right. It's not right at all," he said. "If Government has done wrong and companies have done wrong in this country, those court cases should be taken here under our laws, so the Government has a right to protest."

Central Regional MP Ted Diro raised a point of order saying Sir Mekere was misleading the House because depending on the nature of the agreement, two parties may agree which country's laws may apply in that particular arrangement.

Speaker Bernard Narokobi ruled the point of order inapplicable saying the Prime Minister is entitled to answer a question and express his views about the case as he is the leader of a sovereign State. It has been reported that the National Government is trying to block the multi-million-dollar case, which alleges genocide and environmental damage on Bougainville by Rio Tinto.

The Government has warned the United States that its relations with PNG could be "seriously undermined" if it allows the class action to go ahead there. Sir Michael questioned why the Government was stopping the case from going ahead when it was not even named as a defendant in the case and whether Rio Tinto's lawyers were involved in this process to further destabilise the good relations between the parties involved in the Bougainville peace process.

"Is this statement delivered to the US State Department yet another example of Rio Tinto's arrogant and mischievous behaviour which has polluted the environment and denied landowners compensation to which they are otherwise entitled?" he asked.

Sir Michael further questioned where Rio Tinto was during the entire crisis period, including the struggle for peace. He accused the Government of trying to deny its own citizens' rights to compensation for the destruction of their land, while at the same time succumbing to immense pressure from a corporate giant who does not live here and is not a citizen of PNG.

Sir Mekere said it was a very important issue which required a detailed answer later, but he added that whenever a decision is made in a foreign court on a party that operated here, it would affect the future of this nation. He said PNG cannot just stand here and get covered by a court in a foreign land for activities that happened here.

"This is a very important issue with huge implications for the private
sector and contracts in this country and we have to fight it. In any case, Papua New Guinea is a major shareholder in Bougainville Copper, it has to be affected down the line when the chain reaction begins," he said. "What right has the United States to make judgement on activities, rightly or wrongly, that happened in this country?"


The National - 22 November 01

Government acts to block Rio Tinto lawsuit

The National Government is trying to block a multi-million dollar lawsuit in the United States which alleges genocide and environmental damage on Bougainville by mining giant Rio Tinto.

The Government has warned the United States that its relations with PNG could be "seriously undermined" if it allows the class action to go ahead in the US District Court, documents show.

It has also warned that the current peace process on Bougainville island could be derailed by the action. The documents show that the Government has forced its Ambassador at the United Nations, Peter Donigi, and Attorney-General Francis Damem to withdraw their approval for the lawsuit.

The lawsuit against Rio Tinto was mounted in the US Federal District Court before Judge Margaret Morrow in April by persons acting for Bougainville rebel leader Francis Ona. The lawsuit alleges that Rio Tinto, acting in concert with the PNG Government, was responsible for despoiling the environment on Bougainville, committing 'various atrocities' and 'war crimes' -- including a military blockade that kept medical supplies from the island -- and "killing, bombing, rape and pillage".

The action is being mounted by the legal 'czar' of US civil class actions, Steve Berman, a multi-millionaire from successful suits against
cigarette-maker Philip Morris.

In July, former lawyer Mr Donigi and Attorney-General Mr Damem were asked to advise Judge Morrow and Mr Berman whether the PNG Government would become a party to the case. Documents show Mr Damem advised Mr Berman that it was "purely a private matter" and he condoned "the plaintiffs' choice of (legal) forum ... to bring this case in the United States courts".

Mr Donigi also told Judge Morrow that he did not believe the case would harm PNG's national security interests, or its relations with the US. "I believe the people of Bougainville must have recourse to the courts and not to unlawful means of resolving any disputes," he added.

"It would be reasonable to conclude, therefore, that the litigation claims before you will not hurt the (Bougainville) peace process, but enhance it."

However, it is understood that Mr Damem and Mr Donigi were then ordered by Chief Secretary Robert Igara to recant their letters. In the case of Mr Donigi, he was reportedly told "you can walk home" (from New York) if he did not do so.

Mr Donigi then wrote to Judge Morrow: "I have been instructed by my government to demand a withdrawal of my letter of July 27, 2001, stating an opinion on the above case before you." He said he wanted the original and any copies of the letter removed from court files.

Mr Igara then wrote to the US Ambassador to PNG, Susan Jacobs, advising her of the withdrawal of Mr Donigi's and Mr Damem's letters. "The case has potentially very serious social, legal, political and security implications for Papua New Guinea," he told Ms Jacobs. "It has the potential to give rise to serious adverse effects on many different aspects of Papua New Guinea's international relations, especially its relations with the United States. The implications for this case proceeding in the US District Court are very grave, with far reaching implications for the wider region. The PNG Government considers this court action as tantamount to seriously undermining and placing under strain the cordial relations and support it enjoys with the United States and therefore calls on the United States Government to seriously consider the gravity of the matter on its foreign relations with PNG."

"The Government of PNG respectfully requests the United States Government to make representations to Her Honour Judge Margaret M Morrow so as to avert the difficulties and adverse effects of this case," Mr Igara said.

When asked this week whether the Government had ordered Mr Donigi to reverse his stance on the court case, Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta replied: "Do you expect us to support it? Mr Donigi must carry out the Government's view." - AAP

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