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THE MINERALS in Panguna are owned by the people of Bougainville as they shed blood over them and it is certainly possible Panguna mine, once a major producer and one of the largest open pit mines in the world will not reopen, if landowners oppose it, or if Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) don’t return and alternative developers can’t be found. BCL once operated the Panguna mine, which sparked a decade-long civil war in 1989 and remains a source of tension between the autonomous island of Bougainville and the Papua New Guinea (PNG) mainland.

Given the tortured history of the Panguna mine it would be completely unacceptable to virtually all Bougainvilleans if that 53 per cent equity were to be transferred to the National Government. It would be political suicide for the ABG, and potentially a source of conflict, if the ABG were to agree to the National Government becoming the majority shareholder in BCL.

The suggestion of conflict is a serious one, considering the large number of weapons still on the island and the highly factionalised population. Achieving agreement on revenue sharing with the island is vital because it was one of the prime reasons for conflict over the mine.

“The key issue is not Panguna reopening or any commercial consideration involved. In fact, given both low commodity prices and sovereign risk issues, there is little likelihood of reopening for a long time.

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