MORE than 1,000 illegal miners have reportedly entered the Porgera gold mine site over the past couple of weeks, causing serious concern for Barrick and government authorities on the future of the multi-million kina gold project.
Barrick management executives and Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) said after a joint visit to the SML (special mining lease) area last Friday, the problem with the illegal miners had reached a catastrophic level and parties involved in the project needed to address the issue urgently.
MRA coordinator of PJV (Porgera Joint Venture) and Mt Kare exploration project Joe Kak Ryangao said after seeing hundreds of people (illegal miners) flooding into the SML area, including the open pit, stock pile sites and other sensitive company facilities, that he would put together a report for the parties to meet soon to come up with ways to address the problem.
Ryangao said the only area the illegal miners had not gone into yet was the underground tunnel which had an electronic entry system.
“I could not believe that hundreds of people were everywhere in the SML area, mainly in the open pit and stock piling sites. These areas are dangerous and restricted to specialist workers only,” he said.
Ryangao said the presence of unauthorised people (illegal miners) in the operation areas became a serious concern as it disturbed the mining operation in a big way and posed high risks.
He said one of the recommendations he would make for the parties, including Barrick, the landowners and national and Enga provincial governments to discuss, was the relocation of people living within the SML area.
“The illegal miners are from different parts of the Highlands region. They live within the SML area and cause these problems,” he said.
“They need to be relocated to cut down on the number of people causing problem to the mine operation.”
Barrick acting general manager Kevin Fish and open pit manager Craig Rintaul said more than 800 illegal miners entered the mine site daily in the last two weeks.
They said special police personnel and security officers were outnumbered as they (the illegal miners) moved in big numbers, armed with any form of objects including bush knives, stones, iron bars and logs to attack anyone who tried to stop them.
Company executives said they would not authorise security personnel to use excessive force to stop the people as they feared serious human rights implication.
Three illegal miners died three weeks ago after they were reportedly chased into the cliffs by company security people while they were carrying out illegal mining inside the open pit area.