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State crime expert bemoans skewed discourse over Bougainville mine

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mastaflash   Tuesday, 07/30/13 02:20:10 PM
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State crime expert bemoans skewed discourse over Bougainville mine
Radio New Zealand

A criminologist with a particular focus on Bougainville says many grass-roots communities in the autonomous Papua New Guinea province have not been given access to information about Rio Tinto’s role during the civil war.

In recent months, Rio Tinto’s subsidiary Bougainville Copper Ltd has been among the principles discussing expectations that its huge Panguna copper and gold mine, which has been shut for 24 years, will re-open.

The Autonomous Bougainville Government says it hopes to begin negotiations with BCL soon.

Dr Kristian Lasslett from Ulster University’s State Crime Initiative says any decision on the long-term future of Bougainvilleans must take into full account, the long list of unresolved abuses from the civil war sparked by problems around the mine. He spoke to Johnny Blades.

KRISTIAN LASSLETT: I don’t think the people on the ground have been privy to the full story on what Rio Tinto did during the conflict. They haven’t learnt about what the executives have admitted to. They haven’t learnt about the depth of Rio Tinto’s support of the PNGDF or what they said to the government. And I think that would be absolutely vital information that would then [help us] make an informed decision about their future. I also think we need to see a more diverse range of experts going to the islands to advise people and the government about their options. At the moment there seems to be very much one voice and that voice is talking about the mine reopening. And there are not other options looking at sustainable forms of development that might provide a less divisive way of generating revenue, given the mine’s history on the island.

JOHNNY BLADES: So you feel the whole discourse about the reopening of the mine is being skewed at the moment?

KL: Yeah. I think at the moment the debate about the mine is being very much skewed. The ABG and Bougainville Copper Ltd have developed a very strong narrative, and that narrative is that independence and autonomy hinge upon there being enough revenue coming in, and that owing to the conditions on the island the only source of revenue is the mine reopening. In addition to that, there have been suggestions by ministers from within the ABG that were the mine not to open, other catastrophic consequences could arise, including the reoccupation of Bougainville by the PNGDF. You could imagine it would have a frightening effect.

JB: Standing up for the rights that were infringed upon and all the abuses and so forth also can be seen, surely, as asserting statehood, which is all part of this autonomy question.

KL: Yes, that’s right. There is clearly a very strong case for a civil action, and I would also suggest there is a very strong case for criminal liability. This is another avenue – getting the resources to rebuild the island. Because as we know Rio Tinto is one of the wealthiest mining conglomerations in the world at the moment.


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