MAC: Mines and Communities

Bougainville: after 20 years absence Rio Tinto returns to scene of crime

Published by MAC on 2009-10-13

Is Rio Tinto "listening" to the people of Bougainville?

That's what a leading Papua New Guinea newspaper announced last week, as Paul Coleman from the UK company's Bougainville Copper (BCL) subsidiary arrived in the province following a twenty years' enforced absence.

In May 1989, BCL staff fled the Panguna minesite as the island's Revolutionary Army (BRA) declared independence, not only from Papua New Guinea but also from Rio Tinto.

During his visit Mr.Coleman offered Bougainville's president vague assurances of respecting citizens' views on a final resolution of one of the world's bloodiest recent mining-related conflicts, and possible re-opening of the mine.

Not surprisingly, his blandishments failed to satisfy Indigenous landowners of the Panguna area, one of whose leaders declared that the mine would "remain closed for as many years as possible."

President slammed on BCL boss's visit

By Eric Tapakau, Postcourier

7 October 2009

DESPITE global gold prices shooting to over $US1000 (K2732.24) an ounce, Panguna landowners are yet to be convinced on reopening the copper and gold mine.

Inviting Bougainville Copper Limited company secretary Paul Coleman to Buka Town in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville over the weekend would in no way be an indication that plans to reopen the mine are in sight anytime soon.

This is from Peter Kove, the son of murdered principal landowner of Panguna, Mathew Kove, after learning Mr Coleman slipped into Buka over the weekend at the invitation of Autonomous Bougainville Government President James Tanis.

He said the landowners would take their usual hardline stand and ensure it remained closed for as many years as possible. Mr Tanis should have had the courtesy to inform landowners on Mr Coleman's arrival but had failed miserably.

"James Tanis is not a Panguna landowner and for him to invite Mr Coleman to discuss issues relating to the Panguna mine showed Mr Tanis had no respect for the many lives that were lost during the Bougainville Crisis that started because BCL showed no respect for indigenous landowners from Panguna and all the way down the lower tailings areas,'' Mr Kove said.

"I am also struggling to bring together my people for a reconciliation ceremony for my father's death, and hearing of politicians with their own interests talking about the mine does not go down well with me and my people."

He said the ABG should be answerable for so much money allegedly spent on reconciliations in Panguna and other parts of Bougainville.

"Where is all that money?" he asked. "Is BCL here to give some more money to the ABG?"

President Tanis said yesterday he invited Mr Coleman to Buka to ensure steps were taken to bring the parties together for a review of the Bougainville Copper Agreement.

At last, BCL listens

The National

6 October 2009

AFTER more than 20 years, the management of the Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), would finally be hearing first hand how the people on Bougainville island feel about the 10-year crisis that led to the closure of the gold mine in May 1989.

A BCL representative, company secretary Paul D Coleman, was in Bougainville last week "to see and hear for himself how the people on the ground felt about the 10-year-crisis".

Mr Coleman was in Buka at the invitation of Autonomous Region of Bougainville President James Tanis.

"The conflict (Bougainville) must end where it started ... at Panguna," Mr Tanis declared in a statement released to the media yesterday.

He said he sees his role only as a mediator between the different factions with great stakes at the idled gold mine.

"It arose out of disputes between landowners, members of the North Solomons provincial government, the Government of Papua New Guinea, and BCL and multinational company CRA.

"Therefore, it is these stakeholders who need to be assisted to come together to end the Panguna conflict."

Mr Tanis told Mr Coleman that as president, "my role is to ensure that these parties come together to solve the problem once and for all".

Mr Coleman's visit was the first for the company, after 20 years.

In his talks with Mr Tanis, the BCL official noted the willingness of the people of the region to discuss issues in an open and friendly manner.

In a statement released yesterday, Mr Coleman said he was "very pleased" to visit Bougainville at the invitation of Mr Tanis, and the people of the Autonomous Region.

"Bougainville Copper Ltd has had a long standing relationship with the people of Bougainville, and although it has been 20 years since we have been here officially, it is well known that BCL has always had an open door and a friendly welcome to anyone from Bougainville who wants to talk to us about issues of mutual interest," Mr Coleman said.

"The Bougainville Copper Foundation has also helped to keep us in touch, through the programmes of education and other assistance which have been maintained at all times since the crisis.

"BCL has a natural interest in viewing the state of its assets in the region, and hearing from the people first hand, on the matters that concern them.

"There are many things to discuss, and it is very pleasing to be making a start on these talks, here in the Autonomous Bougainville Region, among the people.

"I thank President Tanis for having the vision and the concern for his people to initiate this meeting," Mr Coleman said.

He also told the people there that the World Bank would be sending a representative to the island to further discuss the capacity building programme for administration of the mining industry on Bougainville.

The gold industry might be funded by the bank, which Mr Coleman said could help facilitate the draw down of mining powers under the peace agreement.

He said this could lead all stakeholders towards the renegotiation of the Bougainville copper agreement.

"Many of the issues of interest to the people of Bougainville, and their future as an economically independent region, might well be discussed under the terms of such renegotiation," Mr Coleman said.

"For the moment, it is pleasing to be here, and I extend my thanks to the people of Bougainville for making me welcome," he said.

Started in 1972, the Panguna gold mine was billed as the world's fourth largest copper mine in 1985, producing 46.5 million tonnes of ore the year before (1984).

The mine was closed by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) in 1989, followed by a civil war.

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