Clive Porabou took a strong message to London. When he attended the Rio Tinto Annual General Meeting on 15 April, he told them ‘no more mining’ on Mekamui (Bougainville Island).
Bougainville Copper Limited’s Panguna mine closed in 1989 after an armed struggle against the company and the government of Papua New Guinea. BCL is controlled by mining giant Rio Tinto.
Clive was a fighter for the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. Locals claim that up to 20,000 people died during the secessionist struggle, many from health related problems. He is an independence activist, documentary maker, singer and writer. He blogs at http://mekamui.wordpress.com/.
In Mekamui Message, Clive talks about:
* the continuing struggle for independence
* demands that Rio Tinto redress past injustices and pay for environmental and other damage
* his journey to London: ‘we don’t want mining at the moment, because if they sign anything with the small group they are talking with … there will be bloodshed. We don’t want bloodshed on the island.’
* his hopes for his people
The Autonomous Region of Bougainville was given a measure of self-government in the 2000 after a peace accord. There are elections in progress for the Autonomous Bougainville Government. An independence referendum is planned for 2015, which is also the target year for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Mekamui, the traditional name for Bougainville Island, means sacred-island. The islanders are not closely related either ethnically or culturally to the rest of PNG. They have much stronger ties to the nearby Solomon Islands. In fact Clive has lived there since being evacuated in 1993 after being wounded in action.
Mekamui has a population of approximately 200,000. Mekamui has a matrilineal system in which land and property are inherited through the female line. Hopefully, there will be more in a post next month when two of the leaders visit Melbourne to spread the women’s message.
Rio Tinto’s Melbourne media contact, David Luff, referred me to the recently released 2009 Annual Report which contains the following:
Mining has been suspended at the Panguna mine since 1989. Safe mine access by company employees has not been possible since that time and an accurate assessment of the condition of the assets cannot therefore be made. Considerable funding would be required to recommence operations to the level which applied at the time of the mine’s closure in 1989. An ‘Order of Magnitude’ study undertaken in 2008 indicates that costs in a range of US$2 billion to US$4 billion would be required to reopen the mine assuming all site infrastructure is replaced.
The Rio Tinto’s website contains dozens of Policies, standards & guidance documents including Land Access and Communities Relations. Rio’s Mekamui challenge is to make their actions match their words.