New Mining Law Strips Rio Tinto's Rights at Papua New Guinea Mine
A new mining law passed in Papua New Guinea has stripped away all exploration and mining licenses from Rio Tinto subsidiary Bougainville Copper Limited.
The new law, which went into effect on Friday, formalizes the province’s control of its own resources and passes power to regulate mining from the Papua New Guinea government. At the same time, it removes the seven exploration licenses and special mining lease for Bougainville.
The new legislation transfers power over mining from the Papua New Guinea government to the local legislature, giving much of the power to Australian copper, gold and silver company Bougainville Copper.
However, the company’s Panguna mine has been the hub of a decade-long civil war in which 20,000 people have died.
"We have invited them to come and negotiate with us and if they don't meet our mutually acceptable terms then they are welcome to go," said Bougainville President John Momis.
"That is the only thing they have; first right of refusal."
According to President Momis, the decision to cancel the licenses comes after consultations with the community on Bougainville.
"If we didn't [cancel the licenses], the landowners and the ex-combatants wouldn't have allowed BCL to come back," President Momis said.
"This mining Bill will likely lay the foundations for another Bougainville crisis," the Panguna Veteran's Association said in a statement shortly before the Act was passed.
"Rio Tinto/BCL owned and controlled our minerals before and it led to the war.
"Under this Bill, Rio Tinto/BCL owns and will control our minerals - why would the result be any different this time?"
Philip Miriori, Chairman of the Me’ekamui Government of Unity commented on the announcement saying the move was dangerous and could potentially hurt the local communities.
"This is a dangerous and destabilizing move and is not acceptable to the Me'ekamui," Philip Miriori said.
"The critics are totally wrong - we have stripped Bougainville Copper of all powers.”
He added, "I think [the critics] are being misled deliberately by outsiders who have a vested interest."
Bougainville is due to hold a referendum on independence between 2015 and 2020.