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Ok Tedi mine shut down by blockade
26 November 2001
Landowners blockade BHP's rat run from Ok Tedi
A group of women and children landowners have shut down operations at BHP Billitons' Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea. The landowners have staged a sit-down, blocking a bridge leading to the mine site, allowing mine workers to leave but not to enter the site. They have been protesting for two days over legislation apparently designed to absolve BHP of it's liability for environmental damage.
Damage from the mine is extremely severe and will last for the better part of this century. It is destroying food, fisheries and the forests on which people living along the Fly River rely.
The BHP Billiton/ PNG government agreement seems designed to absolve the company of responsibility arising from its polluting Ok Tedi mine. Costs are effectively limited to forgoing the mine's future profits by divesting BHP's share in the mine.
Four landowner leaders wrote a letter to Members of Parliament on Friday warning that if legislation setting the scene for BHP Billiton's liability-free exit from Ok Tedi was passed, they would shut down the mine. The legislation was expected to come before Parliamaent at this session. It is believed the legislation will exempt BHP from all liability from future damage by the mine's operations.
"BHP owes a lot more than that to the PNG people. People are demanding just and fair compensation, but BHP has resorted to court to avoid these obligations in the past." said Mr. Wep Kanawi, OBE, spokesperson for peak PNG NGO Environmental Watch Group.
Speaking from Port Moresby, Mr Kanawi commented: "BHP has adopted another painful silence. They're not informing the community or the government of their pull-out plans. "
There's talk of a foundation to be based in Singapore - out of the reach of further protests - but no details," Mr Kanawi continued. "There's talk of a line of credit - but will there be hard cash to solve their environmental legacy? BHP owes it to the people of this country to make it's plan clear, but BHP has never been truthful and transparent over Ok Tedi. The problem of the mine is a public one, so the solution should be too. Sadly, it's still the old BHP", he concluded.
"This spontaneous blockade by women and children demonstrates the anger in PNG at BHP's morally bankrupt plan to avoid responsibility for the environmental disaster they have created," said Igor O'Neill, spokesperson for Sydney-based mining watchdog The Mineral Policy Institute. "These people are standing in the way of BHP's desparate flight from the scene of their environmental crime."
PNG NGO Environmental Watch Group.