Rio Tinto urged to come clean on Bougainville

National, Normal

The National – Tuesday, July 5, 2011

MINING giant Rio Tinto must reveal the full extent of its involvement in the Bougainville war, the Australian Greens said yesterday. It comes in the wake of revelations by SBS television that Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare had given evidence under oath on the decisive role of the company’s subsidiary in the conflict.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said in a media statement in Canberra that the Australian government must also explain its own role in the war, and what it knew about the role of Rio Tinto subsidiary Bougainville Copper Ltd in the conflict.
“The outgoing prime minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare, while leader of the opposition in 2001, stated in a sworn affidavit that BCL was the driving force behind the military action in Bougainville, and the blockade of the island, to re-open the copper mine.
“His view has been backed by the former head of PNG Defence Force Major-Gen Jerry Singirok.
“In light of these revelations, as BCL’s parent company, Rio Tinto must come clean on Bougain­ville,” Ludlam said.
Sir Michael’s evidence, by way of an affidavit, was part of an ongoing class action in the US against Rio Tinto which started in 2001, brought by victims of the conflict.
“Sir Michael has said under oath that Rio Tinto demanded the blockade of Bougainville and military action, and that BCL provided helicopters, transport, fuel, barracks and pilots for the PNG government’s war against the Bougainville rebels.
“If this is found to be true, will Rio Tinto compensate the victims of this war?
“And what was the involvement of our own government in this?”
Ludlam said the BCL copper mine at Panguna provided the PNG government with about 20% of its revenue while the Bougainville locals’ gain from the mine was a de­risory amount of income and a ruined environment.
This led to local resistance and the PNG government responded with a brutal crack-down.
“This war drove half the population of Bou­gainville from their homes.
“By 1995, 64,000 people were in refugee camps and 10% of the population died.
“The Australian government was supplying weapons and training to the PNG army while the PNG government vowed to kill anyone who broke a blockade on the island, a blockade that kept out medical supplies.
“This was a horrendous, bloody war on our own doorstep. It’s time for the whole truth behind it to be known,” Ludlam said.