The gaping hole carved into mountains… not our problem

THE gaping hole carved into mountains was at one point the world’s largest open-cut copper mine. Now Rio Tinto is saying,  “not our problem.”

This controversial pit became the flashpoint for a bitter civil war in Papua New Guinea in the 1990s that cost as many as 20,000 lives.

Now, 27 years after the war forced the closure of the Panguna mine on the island of Bougainville, resources giant Rio Tinto has finally made the decision to cut its losses and walk away.

In a decision slammed as “remarkably unprincipled, shameful and evil”, the mining giant has also side-stepped demands for a billion-dollar clean up.

Correspondence obtained by Fairfax shows the dual London-Melbourne listed giant insisting it has no responsibility for environmental or other consequences from the mine.

“We believe that [the company] was fully compliant will all regulatory requirements and applicable standards at the time,” Rio Tinto executive Joanne Farrell wrote to Dr John Momis president of Bougainville’s autonomous government, on August 6.

Momis said Rio Tinto must take responsibility for the mess it left behind, and has challenged the company over its claims of corporate social responsibility.

“They justify their position by saying they operated under PNG law, although everybody knows the people of Bougainville never accepted [that] PNG law was a just law,” the Bougainville president said.

“When Rio walks away like this, the resource owners are left high and dry for no fault of their own. They are now going to be left with this hugely destroyed environment.”

“It is a major disaster which the people of Bougainville do not deserve”

Rio Tinto had 53 per cent, and recently decided to get rid of its interest.

It gave the Bougainville Government 36 per cent and the PNG Government an extra 17 per cent to give both parties an equal shareholding.

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced the national Government would give the extra 17 per cent to unspecified landowners of the mine area.

The decision infuriated the Bougainville Government, which has passed its own Mining Act and taken responsibility for the complex negotiations with the various landowner groups and former combatants in the conflict.



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News category: Asia Pacific.

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