Posted 05 July 2011, by Staff, Papua New Guinea Mine Watch, ramumine.wordpress.com
While Rio Tinto Director Peter Taylor last week described as “completely unfounded” the sensational accusations from Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Michael Somare, that the mining company was responsible for the war on Bougainville that killed 15,000 people, quotes from Rio Tinto managers, published in an account of the war by academic Kristen Lasslett, appear to confirm Somare’s statements.
Somare has said that “because of Rio Tinto’s financial influence in PNG, the company controlled the government. The government of PNG followed Rio Tinto’s instructions and carried out its requests … BCL was directly involved in the military operations on Bougainville, and it played an active role. BCL supplied helicopters, which were used as gunships, the pilots, troop transportation, fuel and troop barracks.”
One BCL manager quoted by Lasslett confirmed that Rio Tinto endorsed the heavy handed tactics of PNG’s riot squads and supported their operations.
“We knew the riot squads were heavy handed, that was well known in PNG … you threw a rock at them you would getten rocks thrown back … We knew that the heavy handed approach wouldn’t work if they were there long term. It was a case, somebody has to come … and put a lid on things before it gets out of hand”
“There were absolutely no arrangements for accommodation, no arrangements for messing, or transportation, so it was expected that the company was going to feed, and house, and transport these guys … [The mobile squads said:) 'If you want us to drive around give us some f* •• vehicles [asterisks added]. We are not going to be very effective if we are dying from hunger, we need to be fed ‘. So what do you do?”
Another manager confirmed the mining company’s material assistance to the armed forces during the war in the hope their operations would help Rio Tinto get the mine reopened:
“We did everything they [the security forces] asked of us to make their life more comfortable, and better able to manage through, with transport, communications, provisions, whatever, fuel as far as we saw it we were hoping that they were going to solve the situation, so we could start operating again.”
This version of events has also been evidenced in internal company documents which indicate how Rio Tinto was not impressed by suggestions from the PNG government that it negotiate a political settlement and preferred a military solution.
When Papua New Guinea’s National Executive Committee (NEC) – PNG’s cabinet – restrained temporarily the mobile squads, preferring to negotiate a political solution. BCL’s reaction was recorded in an internal memorandum of its chairman: “The PM’s priority was to “appease” the landowners. I expressed the view that CRA [BCL's parent company] would want to review its assessment of PNG as a place to invest’ (Carruthers 1988).