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B’ville to revive mining proposal

Raymond masono
Raymond Masono - "“Panguna is the most likely project that can bankroll Bougainville’s independence from PNG”

NEWS DESK
| Reuters | Extract

SYDNEY — Bougainville vice-president Raymond Masono said he will revive a plan to overhaul the region’s mining laws after its ongoing independence referendum, which could strip the former operator of the Panguna gold and copper project of its interests.

The proposed changes, which have been criticised by Panguna landowners, would also erase an interest in the project held by the Papua New Guinea government, potentially complicating negotiations between the two governments after the referendum.

Under the proposed mining law amendments, Bougainville would take a 60% share in all projects and retain all mining licenses, leaving a 40% share that investors can bid for.

Panguna is the most likely project that can bankroll Bougainville’s independence from Papua New Guinea

“Panguna is the most likely project that can bankroll Bougainville’s independence from PNG,” Masono, who is also Bougainville’s mining minister, told Reuters by telephone from the town of Buka.

“They don’t own the license and the mine, we own it - they come on our terms. The revolution is ongoing.”

He said companies like former Panguna operator Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), which counts the PNG government as a major shareholder and claims exploration rights at Panguna, would not get “special treatment”.

“They can only come in through the new framework. If they have money they can invest as will other investors.”

BCL declined to comment. The PNG government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Masono said he would push for the plan to go through Bougainville’s parliament in December, after it was shelved in the lead-up to the referendum amid a backlash from some landowners and government members.

Once the economic engine room of PNG, Bougainville has fallen to the bottom of almost every financial indicator, despite boasting mineral riches, fertile volcanic soil and stunning geography.

The autonomous region is now grappling over how best to re-establish a mining industry while maintaining peace, 20 years after the last shots were fired in a bloody conflict between Bougainville rebel fighters and PNG forces, killing 20,000 people.

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