Environmental Failures at Inco's Goro Mine Reinforce Kanak Concerns

Mineral Policy Institute – MiningWatch Canada

(Noumea) In a radio interview yesterday evening in New Caledonia, Catherine Guillaume, communications manager for the Goro Nickel mine, acknowledged that a landslide had led to a failure of the company's erosion control management. The incident affected the Kie River that flows directly into the lagoon facing the Merlet Reserve, the oldest and largest marine protected area in New Caledonia, and a marine area that has been scheduled by the government for inclusion in a World Heritage nomination to be submitted in January 2007. It is the second acknowledged failure of erosion control mechanisms in a month, and the full extent of the impacts is not yet known.

Earlier this week in a meeting with MiningWatch Canada and the Mineral Policy Institute, Goro management in New Caledonia admitted sediment control measures had failed only a few weeks earlier, polluting the marine environment. Management stated that aside from breaches of sediment capture mechanisms on the site, "silt curtain" sediment control measures that should have been operational on the ocean foreshore were not in place. This confirmed earlier reports from a community leader on the nearby Isle of Pines who reported that 'the oceans had turned red' in an interview on French television.

Degradation of the local environment, and particularly pollution of the marine environment, has been one of the main sources of unresolved conflicts between the company and local communities which lead to a series of blockades of the mine and its recent stop work. The stand off between Indigenous Kanak peoples, the company and the government of the Southern Province continues.

In an interview with MPI yesterday, Rhéébù Nùù leader Rapael Mapou denounced the misinformation campaign against Rhéébù Nùù. "The leadership of Rhéébù Nùù did not call for the destruction of Inco's property, and we are not responsible for these damages. We strongly believe in our right to peaceful prevent the destruction of our lands, livelihoods and sacred sites. The value of our mountains and oceans can not be measured in monetary terms, and as Kanaks we have a duty to protect these places."

Mapou also expressed concerns about the Rhéébù Nùù being excluded from presentations on an independent review of the marine effluent, one of the major concerns raised by the organisation for a number of years. "On Monday Rhéébù Nùù wrote a letter asking the President of the Southern Province to meet with CEREGES, the group currently undertaking an independent review of the impact of the effluent pipeline. The response on Wednesday was that the program was already fixed and that we would not be provided with a meeting. For the last fifteen days we have been hearing that Rhéébù Nùù should meet CEREGES to discuss the interim report but when we requested at do so we were told that we could not."

Meanwhile, Kanak opposition to the Goro project is evident across the country. Over the last two week blockades in solidarity with local Kanak concerns over Goro Nickel have occurred for various durations across main roads of Noumea, including along the road between the airport and Noumea, and at a number of sites on the road from Noumea to the Northern Province. Local sources say that yesterday 150 people rallied at the town hall in Yaté and handed over a list of claims to the Mayor, including a call for a referendum regarding the Goro project, and calling for a meeting of local people with CEREGES. Last Saturday, environment groups, a trade union and a Kanak umbrella organisation Conseil Autochtone pour la Gestion des Resources Naturelles (CAUGERN, the Indigenous Council for Management of Natural Resources) organised a rally in Noumea in solidarity with the concerns expressed by Rhéébù Nùù. It was attended by an estimated 3000 people calling for a halt to the construction of the project. A wide variety of organisations in New Caledonia including the Union Caledonienne, the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme (League for Human Rights), and CAUGERN have all issued written statements in support of the Rhéébù Nùù and the social, environmental and human rights issues they have raised.

For more information or photos contact Jacques Boengkih of the Kanaky Development Agency on +687 919 119.

Techa Beaumont of Mineral Policy Institute (Australia) and Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada are both currently in Noumea and can also be reached through this number.

See www.mpi.org.au or miningwatch.ca for additional background information.