Bougainville Copper

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Bougainville Copper Ltd is an Australian copper, gold, and silver mining company that operates the Panguna open cut mine on the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea (PNG). It was one of the world's largest open-pit mines. The Panguna mine dominated the economy of the island during the 1970s and 1980s. It also was highly significant to the overall PNG economy: In the 1970s and the 1980s the company's tax and dividend payments added up to approx. 44% of PNG's national budget.

Shareholder structure[edit]

Major shareholders are Rio Tinto (53.6%), Papua New Guinea (19.1%) and the European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper (ESBC) with approx. 4%. The remaining freefloat of 23% is held by private investors. The Company has no access to the mine since the conflict began in 1989. The mine is controlled today by the Meekamui Tribal Government, led by the brother-in-law of the late revolutionary leader, Francis Ona, President Phillip Miriori.

History[edit]

The mine at Panguna was opened by CRA Ltd. under armed Australian police protection. CRA Ltd is an Australian company which in turn was dominated by the British mining company Rio Tinto Zinc.[citation needed]

The mine was vitally important to the economy of Papua New Guinea, but the people of Bougainville were seeing little benefit from it. The PNG national government received a 20% share of profit from the mine of which the Bougainvilleans received 0.5% - 1.25% share of the total profit.[1] The mine is a massive surface mine. Bougainvillean leaders alleged that the mine had devastating environmental consequences for the island. They also claimed that Bougainville Copper had set up a system of apartheid on the island, with one set of facilities for white workers, and one set for the locals. They accused Bougainville Copper Ltd., of being responsible for poisoning the entire length of the Jaba River, and causing birth defects, as well as the extinction of the flying fox on the island.[citation needed]

The first Bougainville independence movement began to arise in the late 1960s, as people began to air their grievances against the Australian colonial government over the handling of the Panguna mine. Australian External Territories Minister Charles Barnes was accused of telling the Bougainvillean people they would "get nothing". The issue of compensation went to the High Court of Australia, where it was found that the compensation was inadequate under ordinary federal Australian law, but that as an external territory, Papua New Guinea was not guaranteed the same standards that applied to mainland Australia.[2]

The mine closed in 1989 as a result of sabotage by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and associated forces, which sought Bougainville's secession from PNG and an end to the mining on environmental grounds. In response the PNG government launched a counter-insurgency campaign spearheaded by the PNG Defence Force and Royal PNG Constabulary. Villages were burnt, women raped, and civilians executed. By the war's cessation in 2001, approximately 10,000 people had died.[citation needed]

In 2010, employing interviews with BCL executives and internal company documents, University of Ulster academic Dr Kristian Lasslet published findings linking the company to war crimes.[3] This research suggests that BCL placed significant pressure on the PNG government to assert its authority on Bougainville, following acts of industrial sabotage, and then aided the security forces providing them with trucks, fuel, accommodation, communications equipment, storage space, messing facilities and office resources, even after their human rights abuses became apparent. Although these allegations have been denied by BCL's current Chairman, Dr Lasslett insists on their veracity citing numerous recorded interviews with company executives and a large cache of BCL records, all of which evidence his findings.[4]

The mine nowadays remains closed but rumors about reopening the mine recently proved to be true with the BCL Managing Director Peter R. Taylor stating to be interested in reopening the Panguna mine. At the beginning of March 2006 first negotiations between Rio Tinto Group and the PNG Mining Minister Sam Akoitai have been confirmed. However, since the Panguna mine is located on land controlled by secessionist King David Peii II (Noah Musingku), the opening of the mine by Australian and PNG interests remains unlikely.[citation needed]

Bougainville Copper Ltd. furthermore holds 7 additional mining licenses on Bougainville which currently remain under a mining moratorium.[citation needed]

During the company's annual meeting in May 2008 and brokered by the President of the European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper (ESBC), Axel G. Sturm, landowners from Panguna expressed their desire for BCL to return to the area. This move can be considered as a key step towards the reopening of the Panguna mine.[citation needed]

In his first statement on Radio Australia Pacific Beat on 8 June 2010 the newly elected President of Bougainville, John Momis, declared that the Panguna mine has to be reopened to assure economic growth of Bougainville in the future.

The world's then largest open pit copper gold mine generating over 40% of PNG's GDP has remained closed since 1989 as a result of the "Conflict" between the forces led by Francis Ona, Supreme Commander of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army ("BRA:) and the Papuan New Guinea Defence Force. The 10 year conflict was brutal and resulted in over 20,000 dead. The dispute was essentially a landowners revolt over getting none of the spoils of the massive profits generated by the mine. Many of the leaders of the BRA are the traditional owners of the land within the mine lease and remain in occupation of the entire mine area controlling entry at the Morgan's Crossing Checkpoint which is manned by armed men permanently and obstacles to prevent any attempt to run the gauntlet. PNG was supported by Australia and the mines operator, Bougainville Copper Limited ("BCL") (ASX:BOC) in the conflict which sought Bougainville's secession from PNG and an end to the mining on environmental grounds. The area of Panguna has also been closed off by Panguna landowners, represented by the Meekamui Tribal Government and remains a 'no go zone'. The mine is controlled by the Meekamui Tribal Government and its leaders, President Phillip Miriori and Vice President, Phillip Taukung and Stanley Ona, son of Francis Ona and Peter Nerau.[citation needed]

US lawsuit[edit]

Citizens of Bougainville have filed a class action lawsuit in the United States against British-Australian company, Rio Tinto arising from the environmental damage caused by the mine and war crimes occurring during the civil war years. In August 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected Rio Tinto's effort to dismiss the claim. See Sarei v Rio Tinto, 456 F.3d 1069 (9th Cir. 2006).

External links[edit]

  1. ^ [1] Ewins, Rory, The Bougainville Conflict, [2] accessed 24 June 2009
  2. ^ [3] (Benggong v Bougainville Copper Pty Ltd [1971] HCA 31; (1971) 124 CLR 47)
  3. ^ [4] [5] Lasslett, K (2010) 'Saving Hearts and Mines'
  4. ^ [6] Regan, A & Lasslett, K (2013)'"Not Credible" - Ausaid mining adviser defends Rio Tinto against war crime allegations'

Coordinates: 6°18′55″S 155°29′47″E / 6.31528°S 155.49639°E / -6.31528; 155.49639