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Tribesmen ask Canada to force changes at PNG mine

AFP

OTTAWA — Two members of the Ilipi tribe of Porgera in the Papua New Guinea highlands on Thursday appealed to Canada to clamp down on abuses of mining companies abroad.

Since 2007, Jethro Tulin and Mark Ekepa have made annual pilgrimages to Canada to press Barrick Gold to put a stop to alleged killings, beatings and rapes by security forces at its Porgera gold mine in Papua New Guinea.

They returned again on Thursday to plead their case to the Canadian government at a press conference in Ottawa.

"We are here in Canada to seek the help of the Canadian government," Ekepa said.

"Our government is weak and depends on the companies exploiting our natural resources," he added. "We cannot take our case to any international court of law or international regulatory body.

"Our only hope is that the Canadian people and the Canadian government will hear our plea."

The two tribesmen want Barrick to compensate the victims of abuse and to pay to relocate families living in the polluted shadow of the mine. And they want Ottawa to intervene to force a dialogue with Barrick.

A Human Rights Watch report in February implicated the Porgera gold mine's security personnel in alleged rapes and other abuses.

Barrick responded by firing a dozen mine employees and asked local authorities to undertake a criminal investigation into the "disturbing" sexual assault allegations outlined in the report, which it said has led to three arrests.

Barrick spokesman Andy Lloyd told AFP another concern was also being addressed by the company: 850 families living close to the mine have been relocated and another 380 will be moved by 2014.

"We're making good progress," he said. "But it's not a fast process."

Tulin countered: "Nothing has practically changed on the ground."

In the past two months, one woman was allegedly raped at the mine and three young people drowned in waste flows from the mine while they were "attempting to cross to go about their daily business," said Ekepa.

Many of the world's mining and exploration companies are based in Canada, but oversight and regulation falls on overseas governments where the actual mines are located.

The Porgera mine is jointly owned by Barrick (95 percent) and Mineral Resources Enga (five percent).

 

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