Saturday, January 23, 2010
Story and photo by HENZY YAKHAM
THE suspicious arrival of 14 hired Fijian mercenaries at Simberi Gold Mine in the New Ireland province earlier this month has raised serious security; immigration and work permit issue concerns.
Concerns to this effect were first raised by New Ireland Provincial Police Commander Tomonmon on Jan 8, 2010 in his brief to the Islands Regional Commander and police headquarters in Port Moresby.
Chief Superintendent Tomonmon warned the police hierarchy of threats of a private army being brought in to challenge landowners.
This followed the closure of Simberi mine last year (Nov/Dec 2009) by the Mineral resource Authority (MRA) over health, environmental and safety concerns.
During the closure, the Simberi Mining Area Association (SMAA) imposed traditional sanction (tambu) of "Gorgor" over ongoing disputes regarding a range of unsettled businesses and commitments with the Simberi mine management.
The Gorgor was removed on Jan 2, 2010 after SMAA and SGCL signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
However, to the surprise of SMAA, police, local people and the New Ireland Provincial Government, seven Fijian mercenaries were flown directly into Simberi from Nadi, Fiji on Jan 4, 2009 by SGCL.
On Jan 7, 2009, another Fijian seven flown in raising grave concerns among the leaders, people and police.
On their arrival, they went to the police station on the island demanding police situation report and even checked the cell block.
The mercenaries since being carrying out patrols of rural communities, asking questions about the executives of SMAA, clan leaders and people who took part in the mine closure.
They have been seen drawing field sketches, taking notes, doing map studies and other intelligence work.
The brief also states that there is strong possibilities of the Fijian mercenaries brought in with fire arms, but have been hidden for use when situation arises.
"The faith of the mine company operating on Simberi should now be revisited. There will be more men coming in. We are no match to what they have and what they are capable of doing. They have the resources and the capability to do and carry out anything," Chief Superintendent Tomonmon's brief stressed.
"We should do away with such company who think they can reap our land and leave the people with nothing," he added.
The brief also states the mercenaries were "a threat to the people and the country" and their visa, employment and other details should be checked thoroughly.
On Jan 19, Governor of New Ireland Sir Julius Chan spoke out in support of the Simberi landowners and people with a blunt message for the mine developer to "get out of Simberi and New Ireland if you are not willing to consult, listen and negotiate amicably with local landowners".
A furious Sir Julius said if the developer deliberately refused to comply with the conditions of its engagement and does not want to work and operate in harmony with the local people in the mine area, the company should leave.
"If they are not willing to listen to my people's concerns, they can pack up, get out and go somewhere else to operate because we will not allow dictatorial and arrogant people who use bullying tactics including employing private mercenaries to instill fear among the people to water down serious environmental, cultural and socio-economic issues affecting the local communities," Sir Julius stressed in a recent media conference at Parliament House.
He had earlier raised the concerns with Acting Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga and Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare's Chief of Staff Paul Bengo.
Sir Julius also spoke to the Fijian High Commissioner in Port Moresby, Niumaia Pabunakawai and suggested that he took the matter up as top priority with Foreign Minister Sam Abal for possible breaches of immigration and labour laws.
Mr Pabunakawai said the Fijian High Commission was concerned and had sent a diplomatic note to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs Michael Maue last week to establish dialogue and work together to resolve and take appropriate action.
"We are also very concern and would want to work towards an early resolution of this matter," he said.
According to names of personnel obtained from SCGL e-mail manifest, the foreign mercenaries of Fijian origin are:
First batch of Jan 4, 2010:
Samesa Bilo Naga
Sitiveni Koya Naitini
Rata Josaia Ravonu
Asivorisi Jiare Lalakai
Second batch of Jan 7, 2010:
Petoro Tambua Lailai
Sir Julius (pictured above) wants the developer – Allied Gold out of Simberi, New Ireland and PNG if it does not want to listen and work peacefully with local people and authorities in the country.
He called on the company boss Mark Caruso that the kind of attitude portrayed is unacceptable and urged the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) to deal with the situation or face forceful mine closure by the local people.
Meanwhile, this paper understands several government officials and senior executives from the MRA are currently in Kavieng and will be traveling to Simberi this week on a fact finding mission.