By Miriam Zarriga in Port Moresby
The successful restart of Papua New Guinea’s New Porgera Limited gold mine is currently at high risk due to the security crisis in the valley.
Twenty one people have died since March 6 as Porgera, Enga Province, has turned into a “killing field” amid tensions between two ethnic groups, the Nomali and Aiyala.
Barrick Gold chief executive and president Dr Mark Bristow responded to questions raised by the Post-Courier saying that “a safe and stable operating environment is critical for the restart of Porgera Mine.
“Therefore, we see a need for an immediate intervention to address the lawlessness in Porgera as the current conditions put in jeopardy the restart of mining operations.
“Safety is paramount at the Porgera mine site. Our primary concern is the welfare of our local employees who reside in Porgera and commute to and from the site.
“As with the rest of the community, we rely on the police and other law enforcement agencies to provide law and order.
“Our local employees are directly impacted [on] by the ongoing violence and the resulting closure of vital government services, including schools and hospitals.
Support for special police operation
“We support the community’s calls for a special police operation and sustainable security solutions to the many social issues that have grown since the mine was placed into care and maintenance, including tribal violence and murder, kidnapping, hijacking, vandalism, and the widespread proliferation of high-powered firearms.”
Losses from illegal mining and theft are estimated at K100 million (NZ$46 million) a year and K200 million (NZ$92 million) from Hides Tower Lines sabotage — not including sizeable PJV security costs and the substantial ongoing costs for constant repair of fences, buildings, vehicles and other equipment and infrastructure.
Speaking to the Post-Courier, Police Commissioner David Manning said that the focus of security personnel would be to secure the surrounding communities of the mine site.
Commissioner Manning also confirmed the deployment of an extra 100 Special Services Division (SSD) officers to assist in curbing the rise in crime and to help restore normality.
“We are ready to assist, and I have had briefings with the local leaders and we will be working closely with the district development authority (DDA) to ensure we have the support but also work together in bringing back peace to Porgera,” he said.
A security brief released on Wednesday has shown that the high number of killings are in the town area.
As of Wednesday, critical community services such as the BSP Bank, Paiam Hospital and local schools are closed again indefinitely.
Law and order crisis
The law and order crisis applies to the whole Porgera Valley and not just the mine site and its infrastructure — this also extends to other operational footprints (Hides Power Station, HTL Corridor, Riverine, and Highlands Highway).
Law and order is at the lowest point ever since the opening of the mine and this is affecting the operation of the mine, landowners, and the communities.
A security update from the district has reported:
- Continued deterioration of security (law and order) in the Porgera valley;
- Firearms sightings and discharges within SML/LMP continue to increase;
- Multiple instances of armed holdups and theft from employees and contractors. Since January 2023 a number of supply trucks and passenger buses have been ambushed and looted between Laigam and Kairik Airport;
- Security incidents involving the kidnapping of women and children have increased,
- Effectiveness of MS and PNG Defence Force personnel on the ground is limited due to the absence of necessary resources and specific orders; and
- Tribal fighting throughout the valley and at Hides continues, with ongoing fatalities and widespread property destruction.
The Post-Courier understands that local police numbers are down, firearms are used regularly within the valley and intrusions into restricted areas continue with armed men entering the mine site.
It is alleged there is a lack of support from the district, province and the national government for more security forces at Porgera.
The lack of leadership and support from community leaders and landowners have seen criminal elements protected and served by the clan and communities.
Miriam Zarriga is a PNG Post-Courier journalist. Republished with permission.