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| Bougainville News


(Radio New Zealand)          Bougainvilleans want compensation for environmental damage caused by the Panguna mine (Radio New Zealand)

BUKA - A class action involving thousands of people is being brought against Rio Tinto and Bougainville Copper Ltd over the environmental and social destruction wrought by the Panguna mine in the autonomous region of Bougainville.

The action is headed by Martin Miriori, the brother of Bougainville’s first president, Joseph Kabui, and former secretary of the separatist Bougainville Interim Government during the civil war.

Panguna, which was the spark for the civil war, was forced to close in 1989, but the present autonomous government, which now controls it, is working to have it re-opened.

Rio Tinto has acknowledged that a class action has been filed against it and Bougainville Copper in the National Court of Papua New Guinea.

In a statement, the company said “we are reviewing the details of the claim. As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are unable to comment further at this time.” says the action is being financed by Panguna Mine Action LLC, a company established for the purpose of funding the investigation and prosecution.

Miriori said litigants have reflected on the unsuccessful US$10 billion-dollar claim made in 1989 by Francis Ona, who led the separatists during the civil war,.

“Nobody took it [the Ona suit] to the court. You know, that’s the thing. Nobody took it to court, Miriori said.

“So this time is a legal process. So we are trying to get something out of BCL and Rio Tinto through the legal process,” he said.

Miriori said they want compensation for “environmental [damage], land, everything that the mining operation affected, basically, for the directly impacted landowner communities.”

This would cover five communities, from the Special Mining Lease area at the site of the mine, through the upper, middle and lower ends of the tailings, right to the coastal corridors.

There is presently work under way to determine the extent of the environmental damage caused by the mine.

This is being funded by Rio Tinto, which no longer has an interest in its former subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Limited.

But Miriori said his legal action is not something that will clash with that work.

“That’s a separate case,” he said.

While Francis Ona had sought billions of dollars, Miriori has no figure in mind.

“No, I just can’t pre-empt any amount. The legal process will decide that. The court will determine how much, as we go along.”

He said ideally they want to settle out of court.

Meanwhile, Bougainville president Ishmael Toroama said the lawsuit is disappointing and is the work of people not acting in the interests of Bougainville as a whole.

He said his government is not backing it in any way, shape or form and sees it as hindering Bougainville’s economic independence agenda.


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