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PORGERA IN FLAMES: Barrick-Recommended Military Force burns down hundreds of homes in PNG

by Sakura Saunders and Tanya Roberts-Davis (sakura.saunders (at)
Hundreds of homes in the Porgera valley of Papua New Guinea are being set aflame. Local human rights organizations in Porgera claim that these fires are part of a strategy to clear people out of the way for the expansion of Barrick Gold's Porgera mine.
On April 27th, without prior warning, the indigenous land owners of the villages surrounding Barrick Gold’s Porgera open pit mine were violently evicted by a police and military operation with 200 troops. “Operation Ipili” was launched during the middle of the day to allegedly make way for the expansion of a Barrick gold mine. This effective State of Emergency in Porgera was motivated by situation reports presented by Barrick (PNG) Limited, according to Laigap Porgera Member of Parliament Phillip Kikala.

Households of third generation landowners were purposefully razed to the ground, causing residents to flee for fear of their lives. According to eyewitnesses, eighty houses in Ungima, two houses in Yokolama and four houses in Kulapi had been torched within the first 2 days of the operation. By April 30, community reports put that number at close to 600.

According to the Akali Tange Association, a human rights organization in Porgera, none of the residents were given time to gather any of their possessions. Anyone who spoke up was reportedly physically attacked by the security forces and some were arrested.

Increasing numbers of people are reporting injuries, as are those who are being detained. Although the landowners received no formal warning that they were to see their houses destroyed – according to the ATA – Barrick Gold had demanded that the land be cleared of local villagers, some of whom are small scale artisanal miners eking out a living beside the mine.

Barrick Gold’s personnel claim the land owners are ‘illegal’ and last week, issued a memorandum calling on them to stop their subsistence activities and leave their homelands. The chief landowner, Nixon Mangape, recently alerted their local Member of Parliament as well as media outlets about the impending threats from the mining company. To date, there has been no acknowledgement that villagers have been demanding compensation from Barrick if the confiscation of their land was to move forward, given their resulting loss of livelihood, possessions and ancestral territory. Now, these communities are suffering from brutal attacks by security agents and faced with the situation that their homes – with all their possessions – have been burned to the ground, in clear violation of national and international legal precedents.

Jethro Tulin, Executive Officer of ATA traveled to Canada this week – along with other international affected communities – to tell shareholders at Barrick Gold's annual general meeting about the on-going human rights crisis in Porgera. As Mr. Tulin traveled to Canada to attend Barrick's AGM, the Papua New Guinea government sent 200 heavily armed troops to the Porgera area. He has since been receiving regular updates about landowner's houses being searched for incriminating materials and burnt to the ground.

"Barrick Gold and the Government of Papua New Guinea must immediately start to address the catastrophic problem in Porgera pro-actively rather than over reacting with high level security installations and branding it as a law and order problem. Calling a State of Emergency is not the right method to fix these extensive and irreversible damages, the ordinary people are already victims of what as gone wrong."

Last year the Norwegian Pension Fund divested $230 million CAD from Barrick Gold for ethical concerns related to the Porgera Mine.
by Sakura Saunders
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