Friday, February 26, 2010

Shades of Avatar Blue?


In the Science Fiction blockbuster film 'Avatar', a familiar scenario is presented of a rapacious mining company pushing local landowners off their land to get at the desirable minerals beneath. It was reported that the film's Director and Writer, Mr James Cameron, used an unusual mountain formation in China as the basis for the peculiar floating mountains in the 'Halleluiah region' of the mythical planet in the motion picture. So like the Chinese mountains where those in the film that it was claimed the locals have now changed their local name for these mountains to the one highlighted in Cameron's film.

There have been recent comments and articles on websites and blogs about PNG concerning the Ramu Nickel mine near Madang. These articles seem to have brought the Avatar scenario clearly into real time focus.

There have been concerns by the local landowners that they are being treated as second class citizens by the owners of the mine. Claims have been made that local people have been refused treatment at the mine's health centre in favour of foreign workers. There have been threats and confrontation between local PNG people and the mine workers who have reportedly been contemptuous of differing work values and practices between PNG and their home country.

This huge mine is reportedly going to empty it's tailings into the open sea near Madang, after first pumping this waste along a pipeline through to the coast. The PNG government has just approved the use of this method of disposing of mine waste. The waste pipeline will be exiting through a hole blasted in the coral reef and out into the open sea. Locals have reported that the pipeline's construction is of very dubious quality and they hold fears about what happens if the pipe bursts. Previous damage from poisonous mine tailings that escaped from a Highlands gold mine have reportedly created severe damage to the river and water source in another region of PNG. In New Caledonia, there have been ongoing concerns for many years about the environmental damage the local Nickel mine has inflicted on a similar tropical paradise.

In an article on mining resources recently, a mining engineer claimed that the output of the Ramu Nickel mine had been grossly undervalued and that PNG will loose billions in revenue based on the current arrangement the PNG government has agreed to. On an overseas website run by a PNGian a claim has been made that the PNG PM Somare, accepted 40 million kina at the time of the last PNG general elections from this foreign mining company and then used this money to help 'buy' elected members to ensure he retained political power.

A recent article now suggests that the mine owners, who apparently employ PNG police as security for their operations, are using this police force to intimidate and harass landowners to get them to move so that the mine can commence operations on their traditional land. It is claimed that some landowners have accepted the inevitable and taken the K500 and a few tools and tried to start again away from their traditional land. Some landowners are however resisting this pressure and another confrontation appears likely.

Those people who are yet to see the reported splendours of Madang may not have much time left. The senario developments in the film Avatar seem all too likely to eventuate.

Courtesy of David Ketepa's

Landowners resist Chinese attempts at forced resettlement

Landowners from the Mauri clan in Madang Province are resisting police intimidation and pressure from the Chinese Metallurgical Construction company (MCC) to resettle their homes, claiming the company has not agreed to properly compensate them for their loss.

MCC is building the huge Ramu nickel mine and wants to dig the mine pit straight under Venevi village but local families are worried by the environmental damage the mine will cause and claim they have been intimidated by police and company officials.

Twelve families have already been removed to a temporary site after being told they had to move by armed police. Each family was given K500, a hammer and saw, nails and a tarpaulin according to the villagers.

Villagers who are refusing to move claim they have been visited eight times by police telling them they have to move. On their last visit the police forced family leaders to go the MCC offices where they were told they had to take the K500 and move.

As well as being told to leave their homes, the clan members have been told they can no longer make gardens, or fish, hunt or gather food from the wild within the mining area. As compensation the families were originally supplied on a fortnightly basis with foreign rice, tinned fish, flour and biscuits and an allowance of K150 for kumu - but these rations have now been cut back

Villages also claim the construction work has already destroyed their drinking water supplies and the company is having to truck in water for them. They also say that the company is only offering one small house for each extended family - forcing three generations with multiple children and grandchildren to live in cramped and squalid conditions.

Opposition claims Chinese miner has paid K40 million to keep Somare in power

Rumours have been circulating for the past week that Prime Minister Michael Somare has been given a war chest of K40 million to shore up support for his government from among the nations 109 MPs.

The source of the K40 million has been a mystery - although the whisper on the streets has been that the money has been given by the 'kongs' (a common slang word that is used to refer to anyone from SE Asia). But now the Sunday Chronicle has published allegations from unnamed opposition MPs that a 'large Asian mining company' has provided the funds.

There is only one large Asian mining company operating in PNG - the Chinese Metallurgical Construction company which is developing the huge Ramu Nickel mine in Madang province. So has CMC provided K40 million to the government of Michael Somare to defend itself against a vote of no confidence?

These allegations of Somare buying and luring MPs for support aren't surprising and aren't new either

Perhaps we will never know the answer to that question. Though it would seem to make sense for the Chinese given the controversy over their mining operation; the questionable environmental permits for deep sea tilings disposal and coral blasting; the shoddy construction work for its 40km tilings pipeline; and complaints from local people over working conditions, land theft and other human rights abuses.

It is hugely ironic that Prime Minister Somare, who is widely rumoured to be about to try and clean up his governments image by sacking Minister's Pruaitch and Tienstein, is at the same time accused of accepting a massive slush fund to buy off the support of his fellow Members of Parliament.

courtesy of
NEW CALEDONIA: Indigenous people take on mining giant

17 November 1993
Eloise Schnierer

The New Caledonian islands lie 1200 kilometres off the east coast of Australia. A French territory that is co-governed by a provincial New Caledonian parliament and the French government, New Caledonia (or Kanaky) is a biodiversity hot-spot.

The main island, Grand Terre, is bounded by a barrier reef that is second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and which is home to an immeasurable number of marine species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

The indigenous Kanak people of New Caledonia have fought for decades to protect this unique environment from the degradation caused by mining and for the recognition of their rights as indigenous people.

On March 25, management for the Inco-operated Goro Nickel mine, situated in the Southern Province, acknowledged a huge landslide that affected the nearby marine lagoon, the oldest and largest protected marine area in New Caledonia and an area soon to be nominated for World Heritage listing.

The Kanaks living near the Goro Nickel project have been struggling for years to have Inco heed their calls for negotiations about the mine's environmental and social impacts.

On March 29, tensions between the locals and Goro-Nickel erupted again with a blockade established at the site that forced mining operations to stop. The blockade was a response to the company's plans to construct a pipeline that would release mine waste water into the sea and to use nearby Lake Yate as a source of water for mining operations.

Opponents of the plans argue that the marine environment will be degraded and the local community's access to clean, fresh water from Lake Yate will be affected.

The provincial government responded by deploying riot police and troops to remove the blockade, at times using tear gas and live ammunition to disperse protesters, and invoking "anti-terrorist" measures against one Kanak leader.

Goro Nickel says the overall cost of the blockade and the damage caused to heavy machinery by protesters amounts to US$10 million - although no evidence has been made public backing this assertion. Eight protesters were arrested and many other activists have been in hiding.

Jacques Boengkih, spokesperson for the Agency for Kanak Development, says the ensuing police search for these activists has been brutal. "This morning they sent some police to search the house of Raphael Mapou, who has been hiding for the last month, and in that house only the mother and some minor kids are living there and so it was once again a brutal police search of the house", he said.

Mapou is former president of the Rheebu Nuu committee, a Kanak organisation established as a local monitoring body over the Goro Nickel project to protect indigenous rights. The committee was responsible for organising the March blockade.

The Rheebu Nuu committee has been accused by New Caledonia's Southern Province President Philippe Gomes of misleading the public. In a comment made to a New Caledonian television broadcaster, Gomes said he believes the reasons behind the Rheebu Nuu committee's actions were not environmental, and that their real motive is mining royalties.

But according to Boengkih, "Environmental issues have been always first on the list of claims from the chiefs from the south. They have been always saying that the company should be careful because some areas are sacred sites and in the sea are fishing grounds and they have always been calling for tough measures to protect the environment."

Boengkih also alleged that the provincial government has misrepresented the Kanak claim for royalties. The Rheebu Nuu committee has stated that royalties should be paid to the government, and not to the individual indigenous groups concerned.

Furthermore, Boengkih said that New Caledonia is way out of step with other countries on the issue of mining royalties. "Everywhere else, in Australia or Canada, people have experienced access to benefit sharing from the exploitation of their resources and this is no more than what people are asking for and they are asking for that being paid to the government and not to themselves."

Inco has repeatedly declined negotiations with Rheebu Nuu on the basis that French law does not recognise Indigenous rights. However, the preamble to the Les Accords De Noumea, signed in 1998, recognised the Kanak peoples as distinct from other citizens of the French republic.

On November 8, 2004, the French Tribunal in Noumea found that the political and cultural rights of the indigenous people of New Caledonia exist and are protected by law.

Goro Nickel has not obtained the free, prior and informed consent of the Kanak people for its plans to further develop the mining project. The Senat Coutumier (Kanak Customary Senate) specifically withheld consent in 2002.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have both called on governments to ensure the participation of indigenous people in decisions affecting their lives and their natural resources. It is on this basis that the Kanaks seek a negotiated and legally binding settlement regarding royalties and the social and environmental impacts of the Inco Goro-Nickel mining project.

Despite much opposition, Boengkih says the Kanaks will continue to push for roundtable negotiations with Goro Nickel, the French government, the New Caledonian government, the Senat Coutumier and the Rheebu Nuu committee.

A series of peaceful demonstrations took place on May Day in Kanak communities up and down the east and west coasts of Grande Terre. They aimed to show Inco Goro Nickel and the French and New Caledonian governments that the Kanak communities directly affected by the Goro Nickel mine are not alone in their opposition to the proposed development of the site.

And their message is clear: the French and New Caledonian governments and the mining industry must recognise and respect their rights as indigenous people.

From Green Left Weekly, May 24, 2006.

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