Fat profits are being made by speculators confident they can beat a Chinese takeover of one of the world’s great copper and gold deposits on the Pacific island of Bougainville even though it hasn’t produced a pound of metal in 30 years.
The once fabulous Panguna mine was closed in 1989 during a civil war which pitted locals, fighting as the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, against troops of the government of Papua New Guinea which claimed control of the island.
An estimated 20,000 people died from the fighting and disease in what ranks as the worst conflict in the South Pacific since World War Two. An uneasy truce in 2001 formally ended the conflict but Bougainvilleans have continued to push for independence which is being tested in a two-question referendum which started this week and will end on December 7 with voters being asked whether they want complete independence or just greater autonomy from Papua New Guinea.
Strategic Location In The Pacific
Strategically placed to the north-east of Australia, Bougainville commands a large area of the South Pacific Ocean and is seen as a perfect location for China to extend its influence in the region.
The island’s population has closer demographic connections with the Solomon Islands than Papua New Guinea with a culture clash one of the civil war causes. Another contentious point which help trigger the war was the Panguna mine operated by a subsidiary company of the Anglo-Australian mining giant, Rio Tinto.