21 Sep 2010

Villagers' withdrawal from court could decide PNG's Ramu nickel case

9:48 pm on 21 September 2010

Three Papua New Guinean villagers have been summonsed to appear before Madang's National Court tomorrow when the legal case over the validity of the planned Ramu nickel mine marine tailings system could be decided.

The trial's start has been delayed another day after the three plaintiffs, customary landowners who have been opposed to the US$1 billion Chinese-run mine, missed the scheduled beginning.

The court was informed by a fax purportedly from the plaintiffs that they want to drop their legal challenge against the government and the mining giant Metallurgical Corporation of China.

They also reportedly want to sack their lawyer, Tiffany Nonggorr, who has suddenly lost contact with her clients.

She recently voiced concern about threats and intimidation that she and her clients had received as the trial approached.

"I'm still concerned for their safety and their wellbeing. They had a meeting with elders on Sunday lunchtime and they had advised the elders that they were definitely proceeding with the case. So this is a complete turnabout in twenty-four hours, and in that time they have been flown to Port Moresby."

Judge David Cannings ordered the men appear before him on Wednesday to explain their decision in person, before deciding the future of the case and the planned tailings system.

Ms Nonggorr says that two new landowner representatives want to join as plaintiffs but that if the three formally withdraw, the injunction in place on the planned tailings pipe will be lifted.

Many Rai Coast locals claim they were never consulted over the construction of the tailings system.

A group of scientists say the mine's plan to dump 100 million tonnes of waste into the sea over two decades is destructive to the environment.