21 Nov 2006

Bougainville asks PNG to allow mining

11:12 am on 21 November 2006

Bougainville's autonomous government has made a formal request to the Papua New Guinea government to be granted powers to re-open mining on the island.

The autonomous region's acting president, Joseph Watawi, says control over mining is fundamental to Bougainville to attain financial self-reliance and as a way of achieving reconciliation after years of secessionist conflict.

Landowner resentment over the Australian-run Panguna gold and copper mine sparked the conflict in 1989 resulting in many thousands of deaths as secessionists fought PNG soldiers and loyalists through most of the 1990s.

The mine has been closed throughout that time but the 18-month-old cash-strapped autonomous government is keen to revive mining to reduce its reliance on PNG government and overseas donor funding.

Mr Watawi said the Panguna mine is wound deep in the heart of Bougainville and it must be treated before real peace and understanding can be achieved.

He says the autonomous government has asked that mining powers be handed over before the end of the year to allow negotiations with Rio Tinto and other interested companies.

PNG's Bougainville Affairs Minister, Sir Peter Barter, says he will take the autonomous government's request for the transfer of mining, oil and gas to Cabinet for early consideration.