Next step taken on path to Panguna reopening

BOUGAINVILLE President John Momis has held talks with Bougainville Copper chairman Peter Taylor to identify the issues to work through if the Panguna mine were to be reopened.
Next step taken on path to Panguna reopening Next step taken on path to Panguna reopening Next step taken on path to Panguna reopening Next step taken on path to Panguna reopening Next step taken on path to Panguna reopening

Momis was positive about the meeting, telling ABC Radio that the groundwork for further discussion had been laid.

"We did not discuss issues in detail but I am satisfied that we have established a process, a form of dialogue that we can maintain as we both consult our constituents," he said.

While the pair had met informally in the past, the recent meeting laid out the issues which would need to be resolved by both parties before moving ahead.

Taylor told that the meeting gave the pair a clear plan.

"What we needed to sound one another out on was what we thought the key issues were for the immediate future," he said.

"Those issues involve having the landowners form a united group so that they could be represented in negotiations and we also discussed the need for four parties involved - that is, the national government, the Bougainville government, BCL and the landowners - to work together.

"We also agreed that there were a lot of technical and legal issues to be worked through. For example, the Bougainville Copper agreement act document itself and the drawdown of mining powers by the Bougainville government."

Momis added that a new agreement would be needed if discussions were to be held formally, as the old agreement had been a source of friction which led to a 10-year civil war on the island.

"If we want to reopen the mine we have to have a total commitment to resolve the differences we had and to do it commercially," the president said after the meeting.

While Taylor said there was a range of commercial and legal issues to work through, the biggest hurdle was getting a united landowner representative bloc formed so that negotiations could progress.

"As far as Bougainville Copper is concerned, we're ready to move whenever the other parties are ready. I think the main issue at the moment is getting the landowner representative group formed," he said.

"Once that's done, and provided there's goodwill from the national government to engage, there should be no reason why we couldn't start the negotiation process formally."

Bougainville Copper has previously told that it was consulting with landowners on an informal level.

Momis added after the meeting that there was a broad consensus on Bougainville in favour of reopening the mine, but that reaching a new agreement was still a long way off.

"There are some armed individuals in south Bougainville, but it's a minute proportion of the total population," he said.

"Everybody wants development, stability, peace and I am saying now that the slogan should be changed from ‘peace through peaceful means' to ‘peace through socio-economic means' … that means empowering people by involving them in socio-economic programs."

His wish was for formal discussions to begin this year.

It is estimated that a reopened Panguna mine could produce 170,000 tonnes of copper per year and 1 million ounces of gold. Before it was closed, resources from the mine represented 44% of PNG's total exports.

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