By ILYA GRIDNEFF of AAP
POLICE burnt down homes and threatened people with guns while illegally evicting them from land next to one of the biggest gold mines in Papua New Guinea, an Amnesty International report says.
It also cited concerns with the ongoing support companies in the Porgera gold mine, gave to police after they became aware of their activity in the area.
“Incidents took place in the special mining lease (SML) area within which the Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) operates one of the largest mines in the country,” the report released yesterday said.
The damning allegations prompted the largest gold mining company in the world, the Canadian-based Barrick Gold, to accuse the report’s authors of failing to acknowledge the region’s “complex social and law and order challenges”.
The mine is 95 %-owned and operated by subsidiaries of Barrick Gold.
“These omissions raise serious questions about the adequacy and objectivity of Amnesty’s investigation and analysis,” the company said in a statement.
“Amnesty’s report does not address the complex social and law and order challenges in the central highlands of PNG, nor does it acknowledge the role of local landowners, clans, in-migrants and other interests.”
Amnesty’s report accused police of burning down about 130 buildings, forcing out families including children, pregnant women and the elderly from Wuangima villages between last April and July.
During this time, PJV was supplying accommodation, food and fuel to the
police, it said.
“Amnesty International does not allege that either company is responsible for the police violence or the forced evictions, however it believes Barrick and PJV failed to respond adequately when company personnel became aware of the police activity in the area,” the report said.
Shanta Martin, Amnesty’s mining and human rights specialist, said the villagers were the victims of human rights violations, and urged the mining giant to stop giving food, accommodation and fuel to police stationed in the area.
“As soon as (Barrick) became aware that the police were burning down people’s homes right next door to the mine’s facilities, they should have recorded and reported the activity to the PNG authorities and conduct an investigation,” Martin said.
Amnesty is also calling on the PNG Government to investigate the conduct of police.
Barrick has said it will co-operate with any investigation the PNG Government deemed necessary but has rejected Amnesty’s recommendation that it withdraws its support for police in the area.
Last April, the PNG Government and police cracked down on Porgera settlers, forcibly removing some in a hardline swoop that Barrick subsequently praised for reducing tribal fighting, crime and dangerous illegal mining.
The original population surrounding Porgera gold mine was about 5,000 but now estimates put the population closer to 50,000.
So bad was the lawlessness stemming from the lure of gold that some PNG politicians wanted a state of emergency declared.