4 Jul 2016

Bougainville hints at legal action after Rio Tinto's withdrawal

4:21 pm on 4 July 2016
Bougainville's Panguna copper mine

The huge Panguna mine in Bougainville. Mining operations were shut down in 1989 because of the civil war. They have never resumed. Photo: Supplied

The President of Bougainville, John Momis, says his government may sue the mining giant, Rio Tinto, which he says is walking away from its responsibilities for mining damage.

The firm is a majority shareholder in Bougainville Copper Ltd and plans to give its shares to the Bougainville and Papua New Guinea governments.

Mr Momis said that Rio Tinto, which operated the huge Panguna mine, planned to walk away without paying any compensation for the damage caused by the mine, which was a catalyst for a ten-year long civil war in the 1990s.

He said that Rio Tinto has claimed that it has no ongoing responsibility for environmental and social damage.

"We are considering getting legal advice to sue Rio Tinto for their refusal to address the legacy issues, namely the damage and the deprivation of normal life, destruction of villages and so on, around the mine," said Mr Momis, who said Bougainville wanted all of Rio Tinto's shares.

He said the request had been put to Papua New Guinea's prime minister, Peter O'Neill.

Mr Momis said the way to solve the Bougainville crisis was for his autonomous government to get the controlling interest in Bougainville Copper, instead of splitting it with the PNG government.

"We know if we want to make the best out of this, if we want to get a positive out of this disastrous situation that Rio Tinto has created by refusing to accept responsibility for the environmental damage, for the impoverishment of the people, by not accepting their responsibility to distribute benefits according to the best regimes of justice and sharing of benefits," said Mr Momis.

Bougainville is due to hold a referendum on possible independence from Papua New Guinea by 2019.

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