The autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville has rejected controversial changes to its mining law, said to be aimed at letting a new company extract the island’s riches.
The modifications would have jeopardized land rights currently held by Australia’s Bougainville Copper Ltd. (BCL), which used to run Panguna, one of the world’s biggest open-pit copper operations, shut by a civil war in 1989.
Speculation about the future of Panguna mine peaked in late 2017, when an application to restart it was put to a vote, and later placed in the back burner.
“There were no reasons that could explain or rationalize the attempt to steal our minerals and deny us all our rights under the Bougainville Mining Act,” said Martin Miriori, chairman of the Special Mine Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA), a group of 2,000-odd landowners who hold rights not only to the region’s topsoil but also the minerals underground.
The proposed legislation included an amendment that would have given all available mining rights to a new company, Bougainville Advance Mining, according to documents provided by BCL to Bloomberg News.
Speculation about the future of the idled operation peaked in late 2017, when an application to restart it was put to a vote, and later placed in the back burner as the result were almost evenly split.
Authorities feared the reopening of Panguna, donated by Rio Tinto in 2016, could open old wounds. When in operations, the mine was one of the world’s largest, accounting for 44% of PNG’s gross domestic product.
Arguments over mine pollution and compensation to locals were central to the conflict that turned violent in 1989, revitalizing an independence movement that killed tens of thousands of people.
BCL finally shut the mine. A peace agreement in 2001 set up the region’s autonomy and paved the way for an independence vote.
It’s believed the mine still holds about 5.3 million tonnes of copper and 19.3 million ounces of gold. The Bougainville Government estimates it would cost up to A$10 billion to restart production.
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