Bougainville leader says Chinese copper mine deal invalid

Bougainville President John Momis said a deal made by a Chinese company with landowners to get access to Rio Tinto’s Panguna copper mine is invalid.

Momis told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program Beijing Aerospace Great Wall Mineral Investment Ltd employed illegal means to gain access to Panguna copper mine.

The company signed a deal with the chairman of the Panguna Mine Affected Landowners Association, the ABC reported.

“It has no legal effect. It is null and void as far as we are concerned. We will certainly throw it out,” Momis said.

He also accused two chief people from Papua New Guinea who participated in the deal, and said they defied the purpose of the negotiations, which intended to restore peace and economic prosperity to Bougainville.

Talks were held in May this year on the reopening of the Bougainville copper mine, with landowners were consulted for the first time.

The Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) held a series of mining forums to discuss with the island community before negotiating for the opening of the mine.

Chairman of PMALA Lawrence Daveona signed the deal with the Chinese company, which allows the company to compile a plan for disposing mine wastes.

Scientists said earlier this year Bougainville Copper will have to improve its environmental record if it wants to reopen the mine.

Bougainville was plagued with a civil war, ignited by the copper mine. A peace deal was agreed on 10 years ago to stop the war.

ABG has been attempting to initiate discussions between the Rio Tinto subsidiary Bougainville Copper, landowners, the Bougainville government and the PNG government to resume the mine.

As per the Memorandum of Understanding, Beijing Aerospace Great Wall should participate in talks to resume the mine, according to the Post Courier newspaper.

The ABG will assume the responsibilities of mining from the PNG government soon.

New mining legislation is about to go before Parliament next month.

Momis claims the Chinese company would not have employed illegal means for the deal if it was sincere about the agreement.

“They circumvented the mechanism that was set up amongst the landowners, Bougainville Copper, the PNG government and the ABG to look at all issues to do with the re-opening of the Panguna mine,” he said.

“It has been a painful experience and we finally got a process going which engages all the major stakeholders including the ex-combatants in a very purposeful manner.

“(This) has surprised many, many people because now we are committed to deal with this problem in a way which would be in accordance with international best practice.”

PNG’s Communications Minister Jimmy Miringtoro is the one who arranged the deal with the Chinese company.

Momis said he is displeased with Miringtoro’s actions, saying they hinder the process of reconciliation.

“We are not against foreign investment – in fact, we are encouraging credible foreign investment because we need revenue and income for our people,” he said.

“But for the Minister and in particular, the Chairman of the Panguna Landowners, Lawrence Daveona, to completely ignore the process that we have set up, and especially this joint Panguna negotiations co-ordination committee, doesn’t augur well for their genuine commitments.”

The PNG Government announced earlier this year it would consolidate all of its mining, oil and gas assets into one state-owned enterprise.

It was reported traditional owners on Bougainville will share mineral rights with the Government and will have a say in how development progresses.

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