Rio Tinto caused PNG war: Somare

The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea has accused Rio Tinto and its subsidiary of causing the war in the country.

Sir Michael Somare said Rio and its subsidiary, Bougainville Copper were supportive of PNG’s military suppression of Bougainville rebels campaigning against the Panguna copper mine, The Age reports.

In an affidavit written by the then Opposition Leader in 2001, Somare accuses the mining giant of having an active role in the military operations that led to the civil war and blockade of the island, killing 15 000 people between 1989 and 1997.

”Because of Rio Tinto’s financial influence in PNG, the company controlled the government,” Somare’s affidavit reads.

”The government of PNG followed Rio Tinto’s instructions and carried out its requests … BCL was directly involved in the military operations on Bougainville, and it played an active role. BCL supplied helicopters, which were used as gunships, the pilots, troop transportation, fuel and troop barracks.”

The affidavit was never released and has been lodged as part of a class action still continuing against Rio by the islanders.

Most of the evidence in the legal argument that has continued for a decade has not been available for public viewing.

The document, signed by Somare, alleges that without Rio, the civil war would never have happened.

”It is my opinion that absent Rio Tinto’s mining activity on Bougainville or its insistence that the Panguna mine be re-opened, the government would not have engaged in hostilities or taken military action on the island,” it says.

The mining giant is currently attempting to reopen the mine, a move being supported by the government led by Somare.

The document was obtained by the SBS’s dateline program from sealed US court material.

The Prime Minister was unaware the program had gained possession of the affidavit and could not comment on whether he stood by his statement as he is recovering from double hears surgery.

Islander litigants and former rebels have long accused Rio Tinto of playing a part in the military’s efforts.

”It didn’t surprise me, all the time we knew,” former fighter Sam Kauona told The Age.

”We knew that BCL was financing this war on Bougainville because when we were fighting … all the BCL vehicles were being used by the security forces.”


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