PNG custom deemed ‘illegal’ by foreign mining company
Heavily armed police squad deployed on company behalf
Liam Cochrane | ABC News
Heavily armed police have flown to Lihir Island to re-open Papua New Guinea’s largest gold mine after landowners halted operations and demanded talks with Australian company Newcrest Mining Ltd.
The mine shut down on Saturday afternoon, when local landowners placed taboo ginger plants known as gorgors at the mine pit and other sites, which is a traditional signal they want to hold discussions with the company.
The local landowners said their Integrated Benefits Package (IBP), which was due to be reviewed in 2012, was now three years behind schedule.
They also cited breaches of mine development activities, tendering of Lihirian business to “outside interests” and environmental damage as reasons for their discontent.
“We are not asking for something new, our revised agreements are not new, these are agreements Newcrest has not honoured,” Nimamar Local Level Government president Ambrose Silul said.
A heavily armed 17-member police mobile squad was deployed to Lihir, a small island group east of PNG’s New Ireland, and arrived on Sunday to remove the symbolic gorgors.
Newcrest confirmed the gold mine shut down for approximately 36 hours and called the landowner’s use of the gorgors “illegal” under an agreement signed in May.
“The MRA [Mineral Resource Authority] has previously provided notice that the power to disrupt mining operations resides solely under the authority of the MRA and any action outside of that is deemed illegal,” Newcrest said in a statement to the ABC.
“A temporary disruption to operations at Lihir was experienced while a return to an agreed formal process to resolve concerns raised by some of the community and other local stakeholders was discussed.
“Operations will scale back up this evening.”
Miner has failed us: landowners
A landowner representative defended the traditional use of the taboo ginger plants as a call for dispute resolution.
“What we have to be clear about is that the placement of gorgor is the Lihirian peaceful way of saying we have a dispute and we must come to the table to negotiate and resolve any issues relating to this dispute,” Lihir Mining Area Landowners Association chairman James Laketan said.
Landowner groups also singled out Newcrest general manager Craig Jetson as a hindrance to further talks.
“Craig Jetson has failed us. Therefore, we will only negotiate with the developer’s chief executive officer who is based in Canberra, Australia,” Mr Silul said.
The Lihir gold mine is located in an extinct volcanic crater and is believed to be one of the world’s largest gold deposits.
Since production commenced at the mine in 1997, the site has produced more than 9 million ounces of gold.
Newcrest’s website says around 90 per cent of the mine’s 5,000 employees are Papua New Guineans.