Rio Tinto subsidiary, Bougainville Copper has defended its alleged involvement in causing the civil war in Papua New Guinea.
The claims came to light yesterday, when a signed affidavit by then Opposition leader, Sir Michael Somare accused the mining giant of having played an active role in the military operation that led to the civil war in the 80’s and 90’s.
The contents had not been known until the SBS gained access to it and revealed its contents.
The now Prime Minister, Somare, has recently undergone double heart surgery and could not comment on whether he stands by his comments, but the ABC spoke to Peter Taylor , Chairman and Managing Director of Bougainville Copper and Executive Director of Rio Tinto Australia.
When asked for comment on Rio Tinto’s involvement with police in PNG during the war, Taylor said it was a difficult time to be in the nation.
“Bougainville Copper only did what it had to do,” he said.
“There was a state of emergency declared and like any state of emergency you had to comply with the requirements.
Bougainville Copper has announced plans to reopen the mine and is currently receiving support from the PNG government, led by Somare.
According to reports, some landowners remain angry about the case, still in the United States courts, for compensation for past damage, but Taylor believes it only a small minority who are opposed to the mine.
“There are some landowners – according to (President) John Momis, they represent about 3% of the landowners, who are still opposed to the company reopening, but, you know, we haven’t had face to face discussions yet and I think we need to do that.,” he said.
Taylor said negotiating with armed protestors was difficult but could be done.
“Well, you invite them to the negotiating table and you hope they accept that invitation and we sit down and we discuss that they’ve got and the issues that I’ve got.”
He said the ongoing court case was not an issue for Bougainville Copper, but rather for Rio Tinto, who the case is against.
Paua New Guinea’s Opposition leader, Belden Namah has said a new company should come in to develop the copper mine on Bougainville, but Taylor said he has received a conflicting message from President Morris and the majority of landowners.
He said the company has been in discussion with landowners and the government to develop an appropriate plan.
“There has been an agreement between the national government, the Bougainville government and the company to sit down and have discussions but we’ve also agreed that an essential element is to have the landowner representatives at the table, and they are still in the process of forming a single body.
“And once that’s done there is nothing, really to prevent us from all getting around the table.
“When you talk about landowners who are anti the mine, I am not sure that we are really talking about landowners or some of the former combatants who are manning a roadblock on the way to the mine site.
“There are very few landowners, I think, who are not prepared to come to the negotiating table.
Taylor said the treatment of the issue by the SBS was “one-sided” and it is “solely a matter for PNG.”