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PNG goldmine acts over allegations of torture and rape

by Lindsay MurdochSydney Morning Herald

DARWIN: The operator of the multibillion-dollar Porgera goldmine in Papua New Guinea has sacked five employees over an alleged pattern of violent abuse against villagers, including pack rapes.

Scores of women say they were beaten, tortured or raped by members of Barrick Gold Corporation's 450-strong private security force in abuses dating to 2008.

One woman told how she and three other women were raped by 10 security personnel, one of whom forced her to swallow a used condom that he had used while raping the other victims.

The alleged rape of a 26-year-old woman, who was collecting native vegetables near the mine, occurred last month after Barrick had conducted an internal investigation into alleged abuses and only days before the company issued a statement announcing improved security to protect villagers near the mine.

Because the woman resisted, her genitals were repeatedly burnt with a hot rod, said the Porgera Alliance, a non-government organisation.

Three girls aged 14 were allegedly raped last July. Victims told investigators from Human Rights Watch that after being arrested for illegal mining, guards gave them a choice of submitting to gang rape or facing fines and possible jail.

''The women that Human Rights Watch spoke to said they feared reporting abuses to authorities given the fear of retribution, the threat of punishment for illegal mining and the social stigma that affect rape victims around Porgera,'' the US organisation said in a report.

The Porgera mine is in Enga Province, in a remote part of PNG's restive highlands. It has sparked controversy in the past over its discharge of waste into the nearby Porgera River and accusations of extrajudicial killings by security personnel.

The mine has produced more than 16 million ounces of gold, worth more than $US20 billion at today's prices, and accounted for about 12 per cent of PNG's total exports over two decades.

Responding to accusations by Human Rights Watch, Barrick Gold said it had sacked employees and was upgrading security at the mine after an internal investigation.

''Our deepest concern is for the women who may have been the victims of these alleged crimes,'' Barrick said in a statement released at its headquarters in Toronto.

The company said further dismissals and other disciplinary action may occur pending the results of a police investigation. A company spokesman told the Herald that all of those sacked were PNG nationals. The spokesman said as well as the five sacked employees, eight former employees have been implicated in the allegations.

Human Rights Watch has also warned that small-scale and illegal miners around Porgera are being exposed to mercury poisoning when they attempt to separate gold from ore-bearing rock.

A local doctor said many of the miners were ''zombies'' by the time they reached hospital and added that ''some will recover, some will not''.

Human Rights Watch recommended a public health survey of communities around Porgera to determine the extent of the exposure to dangerous levels of mercury and to identify an appropriate response to the problem.

Barrick's security force arrested 45 people panning gold in the area in a sweep on January 29.

Barrick took over Porgera in 2006 from Placer Dome, the Canadian company that opened the mine in 1990. The mine is expected to continue producing gold until at least 2023.

 

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