Police sent to reopen Lihir gold mine after locals use taboo plant to demand talks with Newcrest

PNG custom deemed ‘illegal’ by foreign mining company

Heavily armed police squad deployed on company behalf 

PHOTO: The gorgor is made from the twisted leaves of a ginger plant. (Newcrest)

The gorgor is made from the twisted leaves of a ginger plant. (Newcrest)

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.

The Newcrest gold mine was shut down after landowners on Lihir Island used an arrangement of ginger plant leaves to signal they would like to call for dispute resolution. (Flickr: Chronox73)

The Newcrest gold mine was shut down after landowners on Lihir Island used an arrangement of ginger plant leaves to signal they would like to call for dispute resolution. (Flickr: Chronox73)

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

3 responses to “Police sent to reopen Lihir gold mine after locals use taboo plant to demand talks with Newcrest

  1. Fred Hela

    Ah Ah! Isn’t this a sign of brick heads at MRA, holding down titles of big men but clueless, yes masters to so called investors. I would suggest they get proper education on how to manage resources that belong to the people of PNG because we no longer can afford to have only english speaking kids running around while our people suffer.

  2. Where do people live or servive ,when all the land has benn decimated ,

  3. Tree Frog

    The use of the gorgor is probably the most civilised way to address a grievance in the whole of PNG. ISIS would do well to adopt the practice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s