BOUGAINVILLE President John Momis has warned that Rio Tinto must take responsibility for the environmental clean-up of its abandoned mining operations if it relinquishes its stake in Bougainville Copper Limited.
The international mining giant is the 53.6 per cent majority shareholder in BCL.
After the passing of the Bougainville Mining (Transitional Arrangements) Act in July 2014, the company announced it would conduct a review into its BCL stake holding.
The Act removed BCL’s major mining tenements, replacing them with an exploration licence over the former Special Mining Lease in the Panguna area.
Mr Momis told senior Rio Tinto representatives bluntly that if the company walked they would be responsible for the environmental clean-up.
"I stated firmly the ABG position that Rio must take full responsibility for an environmental clean-up and for dealing with other major mine legacy issues," he told Bougainville Parliament.
"We stated clearly the need for Rio to honour the lessons that it had learnt from its Bougainville experience and which it has since applied to its operations world-wide.
"As a result, widely published and advertised Rio policies emphasise principles of corporate social responsibility, informed consent by impacted indigenous communities and the need to operate on the basis of terms that are just for all stakeholders," Mr Momis said.
"I can understand that they might have some difficulties with what we put to them. Rio might feel, for example, that its majority-owned subsidiary (BCL) operated legally in accordance with the laws of the day. Yet it lost everything at Panguna as the result of what they might see as a small violent group opposed to mining.
"But if that is Rio’s position, then quite apart from the fact that the mine did not close because of Bougainville opposition to mining, in addition Rio would be ignoring its gravely serious responsibilities.
"In today’s world, there is no doubt that Rio Tinto would be subject to intense international public criticism if it tried to walk away from its responsibilities for the environmental damage and other unjust legacies it created, or contributed to."
The President said if Rio decides to end its involvement in BCL, the company must accept its full historic responsibilities and honour its obligations to Bougainvilleans.