BOUGAINVILLE: 'Rio Tinto must be brought to justice'

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BY LARRY DOUGLAS

On March 7, 200 Bougainvilleans "visited" the Papua New Guinea-appointed governor, John Momis, in Buka and handed him a statement disapproving of the decision of the PNG government to oppose the Bougainvillean law suit against Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto. The statement had been signed by 2000 Bougainvilleans.

PNG Prime Minister Mekere Morauta was visited in October by Rio Tinto's chief lawyer who explained to Morauta that Rio Tinto is concerned that it might incur huge damages in the law suit filed it by the people of Bougainville in the US Federal Court in Los Angeles.

The Bougainvilleans had not only won their war against Rio Tinto — seizing and closing the environmentally destructive Panguna gold and copper mine in the centre of the island — but they now had the cheek to demand that Rio Tinto pay for the harm the mine, and the unsuccessful war to recover it, have caused to the island and its people.

Morauta immediately wrote to the US government claiming that the law suit would damage the ongoing peace negotiations on Bougainville and divide the Bougainvilleans. It should, therefore, be thrown out of court.

The US government passed these "instructions" on to Federal Court judge Margaret Morrow, who will be hearing the case again on March 25.

A leading Bougainvillean, speaking from Buka, told Green Left Weekly: "The entire position, the letter that Morauta and Rio sent to the Americans, was nonsense, utterly untrue. The law suit, far from harming the peace process or dividing us Bougainvilleans, has united us as never before. We all share the belief that Rio Tinto must be brought to justice for the harm it caused the people of our island.

"Our petition goes not only to Mekere Morauta and the PNG parliament, due to vote finally on the Bougainville peace agreement on March 25, but also to the American ambassador, who should pass it on to her bosses."

From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.

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