Papua New Guinea’s reopened Porgera gold mine faces renewed strife

The police commissioner has ordered illegal miners to leave Porgera Valley within 48 hours or face eviction.
Harlyne Joku
Port Moresby
Papua New Guinea’s reopened Porgera gold mine faces renewed strife This undated photo released by the Porgera gold mine joint venture shows an aerial view of the open pit mine in the Porgera Valley of Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province.
Handout/New Porgera

Papua New Guinea’s economically crucial Porgera gold mine is facing renewed strife only several months after reopening due to what authorities say is a dangerous influx of illegal miners into the volatile highlands region.

Police Commissioner David Manning on Thursday said the “illegal squatters” had exploited the previous closure of the mine to occupy land and ordered them to leave within 48 hours or face eviction. Confrontations between the migrants and landowners have been increasing, he said.

“These troublemakers are illegally taking up private lands to make illicit profit and they don’t care who they hurt or what they damage. This greed is harming the businesses and communities of the Porgera Valley,” he said.

The December reopening of the mine under increased local ownership after a nearly four-year closure was a win for Prime Minister James Marape’s government, which has faced a series of crises. Marape has predicted a windfall of billions of dollars for economically lagging Papua New Guinea over the next two decades from the mine in the violence-prone highlands province of Enga.

Manning’s order came a day after Marape said the Cabinet had authorized a joint police and military operation to “curb the escalating problem of illegal mining” at Porgera.

It’s unclear how many unauthorized miners are operating within the area controlled by the partly foreign-owned mining company New Porgera. The prime minister’s office and police didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

New Porgera on Friday said it had no comment. Its update in January on operations at the open-cut and underground mine said law and order continued to be a challenge for the venture and further vandalism of mine infrastructure could hinder gold production.

Earlier this year, police were unable to prevent tribal violence in Enga Province that killed at least 49 people. Papua New Guinea has one police officer for about every 1,800 people, nearly four times less than the level recommended by the United Nations to ensure law and order, according to a Griffith Asia Institute report last year.

Originally opened in 1990, the Porgera mine, about 600 kilometers (373 miles) northwest of Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby, was for years a source of conflict and human rights abuses.

The mine’s foreign investors, Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp. and China’s Zijin Mining, agreed in 2021 to halve their combined stake to 49% following the Papua New Guinea government’s refusal to renew Porgera’s license. The government now owns 36% and the remaining 15% is shared between landowners and Enga’s provincial government.

Marape’s statement said a recent surge in the number of illegal miners was a concern because the influx is occuring in a region already riven by tribal conflicts.

“This endangers both the lives of illegal miners as well as the mine workers,” he said. “Last week has seen an extraordinary increase of illegal miners encroaching into the mine area, and uncontrolled movement of people amidst so many tribal disputes.”

He said the government plans to issue identification cards to traditional landowners and business owners in the Porgera Valley and passes for other residents.


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