New Caledonians Demand Independent Review of INCO's Mining Plans

Kanak Senat Coutumier – Action Biosphere of New Caledonia – MiningWatch Canada

(Noumea, New Caledonia/Ottawa, Canada): Twelve New Caledonians representing indigenous Kanak leaders, environmental groups and citizens of New Caledonia joined hands in protest around the metal fence at INCO's proposed Goro nickel mine in New Caledonia, on December 21, the Winter Solstice. "We planted and watered a hundred native tree seeds to create a living healing dressing around the wound caused by INCO," said Rick Anex of the environmental group Action Biosphere. The trees are Alphytonia neo-caledonica, a native species used in traditional healing.

The protestors demanded enough time to commission an independent assessment of INCO's Environmental Impact Assessment before the mine is provided permits to proceed with construction and production. On November 21, 2001, nine Kanak leaders, representing the entire Kanak population from Djubea Kapune, the region of INCO's proposed mine, presented Christian Paul, French Secretary of State for Overseas Territories with a detailed petition outlining their concerns about the mine and their demands with respect to INCO's proposed project. Their concerns cover social, cultural, legal, technical, economic and environmental aspects of INCO's proposed mine. The Kanak leaders demanded a two year delay in the permitting of the mine so that a public inquiry into socio-cultural impacts could be conducted, and to allow enough time for an independent environmental review of INCO's proposal. (See below for a reproduction of the Kanak petition, in French.)

At the Solstice demonstration Kanak leaders beat a native ceremonial drum given to them in solidarity by the Innu of Canada, who have also been in conflict with INCO over the mining company's proposed Voisey's Bay nickel mine. A message of solidarity also came from the representative of local communities affected by INCO's operations on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, who staged a mass demonstration against INCO for 5 days in May of 2001. "The community around INCO's concession area is always in a disadvantaged position and furthermore have become victims. The community always ends up the loser in land conflicts because Inco always has the support of the Government. Bad environmental management also victimizes the community in the vicinity of Inco's operations," said Arianto Sangaji, director of Yayasan Tanah Merdeka—Free Earth Foundation in Indonesia.

INCO's Environmental Impact Assessment for the Goro nickel mine is expected to be released in January 2002. The project will use a new, proprietary (and therefore secret) version of Pressure Acid Leach technology to extract nickel and cobalt. There will be an effluent pipe extending into the sea, which will release metals and suspended solids in amounts higher than permitted under French law, requiring a special regulatory exemption and permit for a "mixing zone" in the sea to dilute the effluent. Among other things, local people are also concerned about the enormous influx of workers, many of them foreign, that will flow into their scarcely populated area - increasing the local population 50-fold.

New Caledonia is a French Overseas Territory located in the southwestern Pacific. The island is surrounded by a 44,000 square kilometre reef system that is the world's second largest coral massif after Australia's Great Barrier Reef. World Heritage status is being sought for the reef. Due in part to its isolated geographical location, New Caledonia's reef and its land mass are home to many species that are can only be found there.

For more information contact:

  • Georges Mandaoué, President, Kanak Senat Coutumier (Customary Senate): tel 687 24 20 00
  • Rick Anex or Jacky Mermoud, Action Biosphere: tel 687 44 22 81 or 687 41 83 87
  • Catherine Coumans, Research Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada: tel (613) 569-3439