23 Dec 2017

Conscious of old wounds, Bougainville halts mine development

4:41 pm on 23 December 2017
Panguna mine site

The Panguna mine was a catalyst for the civil war on Bougainville in the 1990s. It has sat abandoned since 1989. Photo: supplied

Bougainville is to put on hold any new development at the controversial Panguna copper mine.

The mine was the catalyst for the civil war in the Papua New Guinea region and has been shut down for nearly 28 years.

The autonomous Bougainville government has been keen to re-open it in order to boost the region's economy as it prepares for an independence referendum in 2019.

But local journalist Aloysius Laukai has reported President John Momis saying his government has imposed an indefinite moratorium on exploration and mining at Panguna.

Mr Momis said this was in the best interests of the landowners and people of Bougainville and was made on the advice of the Bougainville Mining Advisory Council.

He said his government ''will not allow this project once again to reignite the wounds of the Bougainville crisis and distract our focus for restoring peace and our preparation for our referendum in 2019''.

It comes amid a battle by the former operator Bougainville Copper Ltd, or BCL, and Australian company, RTG, to win the right to proceed.

Mr Momis said BCL, in which his government has a major interest, cannot secure the consent of the landowners while it is untenable for any other developer under the "current circumstances."

RTG had claimed to have the backing of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiang Landownwers Association, which controls the land at the site of the mine, but the ABG has been strongly critical of the company's involvement.

Meanwhile Mr Momis said his government would ''continue to consult with Panguna landowners and the people of Bougainville over an appropriate arrangement or best alternative models of development of the mine if the people still had an appetite'' to develop Panguna in the future.