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Bougainville threatens PNG with legal action over $240m debt

Is Panguna in play? PNG officials’ secret mission to Bougainville

Kumul at Aropa airstripKEITH JACKSON

BOUGAINVILLE police are reported to be baffled by the unannounced visit to central Bougainville of the Papua New Guinea government jet, Kumul (still not sold despite a four-year old election promise).

The small passenger aircraft was seen at Aropa airport on Christmas Day soon after Bougainville president John Momis expressed fears the PNG government might be seeking to initiate backdoor talks with Panguna landowners as part of its plan to try to take over the gold and copper mine.

Aropa is the closest airport to the mine.

Earlier in December, Dr Momis told Sam Walsh, managing director of the mining company’s majority owner, Rio Tinto, that he was concerned the O’Neill government was positioning to buy Rio's equity in Bougainville Copper Ltd.

In the letter, Dr Momis advised Mr Walsh that this information had been conveyed to him by two PNG government ministers.

One of them, Ben Micah, had let Dr Momis know that, following a series of meetings with Rio Tinto, PNG wished to purchase the company’s 53.83% equity and was seeking the unlikely agreement of the Autonomous Bougainville Government to the deal.

Before Christmas, Dr Momis stated in the Bougainville parliament that he had been invited by Mr O’Neill to attend a meeting with Rio Tinto in Singapore.

His attendance seems unlikely, as Dr Momis is determined to do whatever he can to stop a deal taking place.

He assured parliament that the minerals in Panguna were owned by the people of Bougainville and reminded members that the people had shed blood over them.


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Kristian Lasslett

Not time to raise the alarm yet - in fact its rather presumption to use the phrase Panguna landowners in this case, as it allows the backroom deals of a small minority to taint the principled position maintained by a large majority of landowners. Indeed, there remains a lot of highly organised resistance to industrial mining in Panguna, which would fight bitterly against any unwanted commercial initiative. Furthermore, this is a place that was decimated more than most by the PNGDF, with logistic assistance from BCL and the Australian government; so its not a region where ambassadors of the PNG government looking to reopen vivid mining scars would be welcomed with open arms.

There is however a small element of crooked players, looking to fashion themselves into professional middle-men, for prospective mining interests. They often have tenuous and strained relationships with the communities they profess to represent.

If there is something dodgy going on here, I would bet its one of these micro factions, looking to get in bed with some rather unsavoury characters from abroad - some of whom operate freely out of Australia. However, its the same micro factions who have been prepared to entertain BCL, providing the right financial stimulus is offered and the ABG is prepared to do business through them.

Johnny Blades

That jet has done a lot of business missions.

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