Modern Papua New Guinea

By Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi | Go to book overview

David King


REFUGEES AND BORDER CROSSERS ON THE
PAPUA NEW GUINEA-INDONESIA BORDER

BETWEEN 1994 AND 1996 landowners from villages along the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers in Western Province took Broken Hill Proprietary to court in Melbourne, demanding compensation for pollution of the rivers totalling US$4 billion. While the case was settled out of court in 1996 for no more compensation than had originally been offered, the landowners were successful in reopening investigation of an appropriate tailings dam. The media portrayed the case as a type of David-and-Goliath struggle of environmental activism. It certainly was such a struggle, but no mention was ever made of the thousands of refugees and displaced people living in the worst-affected parts of the river system. For the Yonggom people along the most heavily polluted parts of the Ok Tedi River, the presence of 4,000 refugees (Kirsch 1993:60) in their villages and camps west of the river has created land pressure and introduced an element of politicisation among people who harbour and support an active guerilla army. While the court case was initiated by the leaders from over a hundred villages, representing over 30,000 people, the main leaders in the case were from Yonggom communities. The issue of the refugees and displaced persons in the Ok Tedi area is a social and political time bomb that will probably bring about further conflict and activism during the remaining life of the mine, whether or not Broken Hill Proprietary cleans up its environmental act.

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