A LEADING ACADEMIC and adviser to the Bougainville Autonomous government says the communities who have suffered most from the Rio Tinto owned Panguna copper mine are those that were relocated from villages at the mine site or from sites affected by mine tailings.
The mine was closed down in 1989 after it sparked a bloody civil war but, with Bougainville due to hold a referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea within the next ten years, moves are afoot to re-open the mine.
Landowners from the six mine lease areas are now going through a process to set up representative organisations to negotiate with the Rio Tinto subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Limited.
Anthony Regan, a Research Fellow at the Australian National University, said the people who were relocated had their houses burned by the PNG army and police in 1989 and now live in squatter camp conditions.
“The septic tanks sunk into the rock are completely full, to the brim, so when it rains, and it is very high rainfall up there, water rushes down over the top of the septic tanks and there is raw sewage running through the villages,” Dr Regan said. “The fact that people have avoided death by cholera and typhoid is amazing.
“There are now thousands of relocated villagers and they have no rights to timber, to the saksak leafing used for roofing. They have no water supply, they can't grow cash crops and tensions are developing between them and the original owners whose land is running short for their own purposes.”
Dr Regan said landowners wanted to have separate associations for each lease area because there are quite distinct needs in each area.
“It will be a matter for each association to carefully document the needs and the problems of the people within their lease area and bring those to the table through the umbrella association,” he said.
“In the process of setting up the associations, the Autonomous Bougainville Government is getting a tremendous window on the issues that are facing the people, because in these long and detailed consultations the administration is having, their problems are being put right on the table.
“I was in the tailings lease in a series of meetings and the people are very clear, they know what their problems are and they are identifying them with tremendous clarity and great emotion.
“They really feel they have suffered, they are aware that they are the real victims of mining, and they are not opposing mining, for the future for the most part, but they are saying if it is to happen again, then it has to be done very differently and they, amongst others, have to be looked after in very different ways.”
Source: Radio Australia