One PNG | 24 April 2017
Panguna landowners have reacted angrily to a report that the PNG Government supports formerly Rio Tinto-linked company BCL in its bid to convince authorities it should be given exploration rights at the controversial Panguna minesite – the scene of major civil unrest in Bougainville in the 1990s.
The President of the Special Mining Lease Landowners Association, Philip Miriori, said his group was 100% opposed and that many other Bougainvillians shared this view.
Claims of unanimous landowner support for BCL were wrong and insulting, Mr Miriori said, adding it was time PNG Prime Minister O’Neill and Bougainville President Momis heard some true facts.
He also went on to say:
“In fact, during the first phase the issue of an exploration licence, we are the only Landowner Association that has a say as it will be our minerals and land that will be disturbed and subject to exploration. It is only later, when the mine is redeveloped that the other Landowners will need to consider their position.”
“Our group owns the land and the mineral rights for the minesite. Nothing can occur on the site without our permission,” Mr Miriori said.
“We are being deliberately passed over despite Bougainville Government assurances that no action would be taken on the minesite without proper respect to people’s views.
“Many Bougainvillians were angered at the statements about PNG Government support for BCL. I expect we will hear much more this week,” he said.
Mr Miriori was referring to a planned gathering of ex-combatants from the Bougainville conflict, which erupted on the back of BCL and Rio Tinto’s operation of the old Panguna, leaving only environmental carnage and deep-seated disputes over improper payments and lack of accountability with the death of many of our friends and family.
“All this will do is further motivate our people to stand up against BCL, stronger and more vocally,” Mr Miriori said.
“Most people in Bougainville know of Francis Ona’s words: ‘BCL should never be allowed to return to Bougainville’.”
The SML group made their position very clear to Bougainville’s President Momis at a meeting in late February and another earlier in December last year.
“We said we will never accept BCL. It is the same company that caused turmoil in Bougainville which lasted more than 10years. It is run by ex-Rio people. And it continues to break its promises, try to bully us and misrepresent us, as it tries to drive a wedge between our people and ignore our rights as the owners of the minerals.”
“It is time people woke up to this. In 28 years, BCL has done nothing for Bougainville or PNG except make empty promises or ignore us. Why would we even consider giving BCL anything – they have given us nothing and they owe millions in unpaid rent and hundreds of millions in compensation for ruining the environment.
“There is a better way forward which will finally get rid of BCL and bring some real hope back for Panguna and future Bougainville independence and prosperity.”