PNG relinquishes stake in Bougainville Panguna mine to locals

Image: AAP, Ilya Gridneff

Papua New Guinea (PNG) has given its share in the Panguna copper gold mine to the people of Bougainville in a historic move by the parliament.

Rio Tinto previously owned 53.8 per cent of Panguna – which was developed by Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) – while the PNG Government owned 19 per cent.

In June, Rio divested its shares in BCL, giving 17.4 per cent to PNG and 36.4 per cent to Bougainville; leaving Bougainville and PNG with equal shares of 36.4 per cent.

PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill said Rio’s decision aimed to “balance the ownership of that mine so that we can continue to work together”, The Australian reports.

However, the move was condemned in Bougainville with their president, John Momis, saying they could not accept PNG’s equal or majority control of BCL, according to the AFP.

Following this O’Neill told the PNG parliament on Wednesday that they would now give their 17.4 per cent share to the people of Bougainville in order to “help alleviate some of the legacy issues of the past”. The move would then give Bougainville a combined 53.8 per cent share in BCL.

“This ownership will also give landowners and the people direct control over environmental issues of any future mine development that will take place,” O’Neill said.

“By transferring these BCL shares to the people we are further strengthening the confidence of Bougainvilleans in the peace process.

“We are aware of the pain and torment that the people of ­Bougainville have gone through, and the importance of land. They felt very strongly that they were disempowered and they did not have participation in the mine itself.”

BCL is still listed on the ASX with the remaining 27.2 per cent share held by a number of different stakeholders.

The mine has been closed since 1989 following a nearly 10 year long civil war sparked by a sense of disempowerment the Bougainvilleans felt over the lack of control over their land.

Panguna is still thought to contain around $50 billion worth of copper and gold, while restarting the mine is expected to cost around $6.5 billion. 

Both PNG and Bougainville will be holding a referendum in 2019 over the possibility of Bougainville’s independence.

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