(Bloomberg) — Rio Tinto Group will join a new study into the impacts on a South Pacific community of a now shuttered copper mine that sparked deadly civil strife three decades ago and has drawn concern over environmental impacts.
The London-based producer will be among a committee that’ll investigate the “actual and potential environmental and human rights impacts,” of the Panguna mine in Bougainville, which operated for 17 years through 1989 when local protests over mine revenue degenerated into a civil war that killed as many as 20,000 people.
“We’ve not had access to the mine since that time,” Rio Chief Executive Officer Jakob Stausholm said in a Wednesday statement. “Stakeholders have raised concerns about impacts to water, land and health and this process will provide all parties with a clearer understanding of these important matters.” Bougainville is a semi-autonomous region of Papua New Guinea.
Rio has been attempting to do more to address concerns over environmental and human rights issues amid efforts to repair community ties following explosions at an iron ore operation in Australia last year that decimated two Aboriginal Australian heritage sites. The incident led to the exit of key executives, including Stausholm’s predecessor.
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Bougainville residents have long demanded action from Rio and previously opened a human rights complaint with the Australian government. The disused mine site has also been the target of frequent interest from developers hoping to revive operations and exploit the billions of dollars of gold and copper left untapped.
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