SYDNEY, Nov 26 (Reuters) – An independence referendum in Bougainville has reignited interest in copper mining in the South Pacific island, causing a surge in the shares of the former operator of the mine that sparked the region’s war to secede from Papua New Guinea.
Shares in Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), the former operator of the giant Panguna gold and copper mine, have more than tripled since early last week to trade at above A$0.40 late on Tuesday. This coincides with the start of a non-binding independence referendum in Papua New Guinea’s region of Bougainville that has begun peacefully and will run until Dec. 7.
The vote is a key part of a peace agreement reached in the aftermath of a decade-long war between Bougainville’s rebel fighters and Papua New Guinea forces that ended in 1998 and killed 20,000.
The fighting was triggered by disputes over land royalties and pollution in rivers near the now shuttered Panguna project.
BCL’s general manager Mark Hitchcock said in a statement to Reuters he believed the investor interest in the company reflected increased levels of confidence in Bougainville’s future. Formerly controlled by Rio Tinto, BCL now counts the PNG government and Autonomous Bougainville Government as major shareholders.