The role of notorious Malaysian-owned logging company Rimbunan Hijau (RH) is in the spotlight after Greenpeace activists blockaded one of its ships in Papua New Guinea on October 24.
Greenpeace was supporting about 200 local landowners from West Pomio, in New Britain, who were protesting against what they say was illegal logging by RH, AAP said on October 24.
Forty-thousand hectares of land was leased to RH — operating under a front company called Gilford — for 99 years for a palm oil plantation, without the consent of all landowners.
Greenpeace spokesperson Jessa Latona told Radio Australia on October 25: “Customary landowners that we’ve spoken to here were not aware of the lease which is taking away their land for 99 years. Some of the local landowners did sign on. There is a landowner group that is talking to the logging company but the majority of landowners here had no idea that their land was being signed away for 99 years.”
The protests came after a group of police hired by RH threatened and attacked people in several villages in the area over October 3-6.
PNG Exposed said on October 8 that people were beaten with fan belts and tree branches for opposing RH’s operations. Police also destroyed community roadblocks aimed at stopping transportation of logs.
Assistant police commissioner Anton Billy admitted to ABC Radio on October 11 that RH paid for the police’s transport and accommodation.
RH’s history in PNG is one of environmental destruction and repression of opponents. One sign of its power is its ownership of PNG’s most popular newspaper, the National.
PNG Exposed said on October 25 that a RH-owned aircraft was used to fly National journalist Malum Nalu to Pomio. Nalu has since filed several stories attacking opponents of the company.
Governor of New Ireland province Sir Julius Chan told Port Moresby’s Post Courier on November 3 that the Pomio “land grab” was “a conspiracy”. He welcomed the Greenpeace campaign as “a noble campaign to return control of the forest, control of the land to the people of Papua New Guinea”.