NEW CALEDONIA - The wave of indigenous protest over the development of the Goro nickel mine (69% owned by INCO LTD. of Toronto) came to a head earlier this week. Kanak chiefs and villagers blockaded all land access to the plant, power plant and mine site beginning on the evening of March 29.
The Kanaks are concerned about protecting their fresh water supply in Yate Lake, which Inco plans to use for process water. They also want marine ecosystems protected from adverse effects of piping mine wastewater into the sea. The Kanaks seek a negotiated and legally binding settlement regarding social and environmental impacts, much as that signed with Inco by the Innu of Labrador regarding the impact of the Voisey's Bay mine.
By Monday, April 3, the Kanaks had established a camp across the main road to the mine site. There have been reports that activists destroyed vehicles and equipment. The French government (which controls New Caledonia) sent troops to the area and condemned the violence associated with the protest. The New Caledonian minister for mining and economic development likened the activists to terrorists.
Goro Nickel has had to shut down work and temporarily lay off its workforce. About 1,700 employees of the company marched on the French high commission in Noumea yesterday to impress upon officials the importance of their jobs.
CMJ readers can look forward to more information about the Goro project in our April 2006 issue.