NOOSA – After some months of heated debate on Bougainville, the autonomous province’s president, Dr John Momis, has announced an indefinite moratorium on re-opening mining at Panguna.
The debate was accelerated by the bitter rivalry of two companies, Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL) and RTG, both of which want to re-establish the mine and have been supported by different groups on Bougainville.
Dr Momis told Don Wiseman of Radio New Zealand that divisions between landowners have led to a decision on mining being delayed at least until next year’s referendum on Bougainville’s political future.
“We don't want to cause a split amongst the landowners because we have a referendum coming,” Dr Momis said. “We want to make sure we unite our people. There is a definite divide and until the people are united we will not proceed with any mining.
“Determining Bougainville's future is more paramount right now,” he told Wiseman. “It is the priority we are focusing our attention to, to make sure that the people of Bougainville are united, so we don't want any other issues to undermine this unity.
“I can't see how the landowners can unite before the referendum. If they do, then that will be good and we will look at other possibilities.”
Dr Momis said his government, which had earlier supported BCL to redevelop the copper and gold mine, had “some problems” with rival company RTG.
“In fact they are causing a lot of confusion and division in the community and we are not prepared to go ahead while this situation prevails.
“We have made it very clear to the landowners that unless they are totally united and they are prepared to subject themselves to the rule of law and so on and so forth, the ABG will leave the reserve [moratorium] in place.”
Responding to Don Wiseman’s question about whether the Bougainville government was looking at other industries, Dr Momis said “timber development and other industries” were under consideration.