17 Mar 2006

PNG wants gold mining prospectors to return

11:12 am on 17 March 2006

Papua New Guinea wants gold mining prospectors to come back to the autonomous province of Bougainville to kickstart investment after years of conflict on the island.

PNG's Mining Minister Sam Akoitai has been in talks with Rio Tinto officials this week to lift a long-standing moratorium that stops other miners from exploring there.

Rio Tinto has large Australian mining interests and a fifty four per cent share of Bougainville Copper Ltd, the holder of seven exploration licences in Bougainville and former operator of the giant Panguna copper and gold mine that had closed in 1989.

The secessionist conflict stopped all mining activity and under the moratorium, no other exploration company is allowed into Bougainville.

Landowner anger over mine returns and environmental damage sparked decade-long fighting that claimed as many as twenty thousand lives.

The National newspaper reports the mine is estimated to have another fifthteen years of life.