MAC: Mines and Communities

European shareholders call for copper mine re-opening

Published by MAC on 2006-05-18

European shareholders call for copper mine re-opening

Radio Australia

18th May 2006

The European-based shareholders of the company which owns Bougainville's copper mine have called for the re-opening of the operation. The Panguna mine was shut down in 1998 when a civil war erupted over grievances by landowners, which included concerns over environmental degradation. The Papua New Guinea government, which still has authority over the mine, has been unwilling to agree to its re-opening, amid fears it could lead to more tension on the island. But the European investors say that with mineral prices skyrocketing on world markets, the Panguna mine could offer the island's people new levels of prosperity.

Presenter/Interviewer: Caroline Tiriman
Speakers: Joseph Watavi, Bougainville Vice President; Axel Sturm, Spokesman, Bougainville Copper's European investors

TIRIMAN: The shareholders' call for the mine's re-opening was included in a recent statement picked up by a number of media outlets in PNG.

The statement is just the most recent call in recent months for PNG to reconsider the policy.

However, both the National and Bougainville governments say the opening of the mine is still a very sensitive issue and all care must be taken to avoid opening up old wounds.

Joseph Watavi is Bougainville's vice-president.

WATAVI: Because of the sensitivity of the issues surrounding the Bougainville mine, this is why we would like to see that we have some real discussions between all the stakeholders to be able to fully understand and accept whatever is required, in terms of talking about reopening the mine.

Already, at the moment, the autonomous Bougainville government leadership, we have had some preliminary discussions with the national government and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea indicating certain things that we would like to sort out, prior to coming to the real, critical discussions on how we should go about the future of the Panguna mine, and that's what's happening at the moment.

It's also understood that there are also a lot of discussions taking place amongst the Panguna landowners themselves and I think it should be a matter of time where people will be able to realise the need to consider, perhaps, maybe reopening the mine again some time down the road.

TIRIMAN: But Axel Sturm, a spokesman for the European investors, says that while he understands the reluctance, exploiting the minerals in Bougainville would be financially rewarding for the Island and its people.

STURM: We want the mine to be reopened and that other revenues coming from the mining would be divided and passed so that everybody had profit on the work there. But not only that, we also want that the mining be done in a way that recultivation after mining, that means we here in Europe have a couple of coal mines and these coal mines, when they have been exploited, are recultivated, or by forests or even with some land for cultivating plants like crops and so on. And we think the same could be done in Bougainville or even in other mines also in Papua New Guinea. And they could live in a very comfortable way because revenues, or taxes or even royalties could help that island to really to rise up and to develop a modern country.

TIRIMAN: But despite those assurances, Bougainville Vice President Joseph Watavi remains cautious.

WATAVI: We are very much mindful of the concerns that are being echoed by those investors and this is why we would like to ensure that certain discussions must take place between the government of Bougainville, the landowners here and of course the Papua New Guinea national government and the company itself, so that we all can agree to certain things that need to be done.

And I guess I can say it requires time, patience to be able to get things done rightly from the word go.

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