Magazine article New Internationalist

Moonscape Mining: Struggle for Independence Continues

Magazine article New Internationalist

Moonscape Mining: Struggle for Independence Continues

Article excerpt

THE smoke rising from the ashes of Moroni village is a grim reminder of the dirty war being fought over the future of one of the world's largest copper mines. A slurry of dirt, rocks and toxic chemicals has turned the once-fertile river valleys into a moonscape. Whole forests have died, their naked branches pointing towards the sky like the fingers of a huge skeleton.

The mine, on the island of Bougainville, is controlled by Rio Tinto Zinc Australia. When Bougainville was part of a United Nations Trust Territory, Australian colonial police clubbed women-the traditional custodians of land on the island-who protested at being removed to make way for the mine. As young people grew up, watching their birthright devastated, they became more militant. In 1998 they began blowing up the power pylons supplying the mine and forced it to close. It has remained closed ever since.

The struggle to close the mine escalated into a war of independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG). The PNG Army was given a licence to 'shoot to kill' but was repelled and left in March 1990, imposing a military blockade on the island. Communications were cut, journalists were kept out and essential supplies such as medicines were prevented from reaching the people. …

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