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Newmont says vindicated in Indonesia case

Date: 11-Oct-04
Country: USA
Author: Steve James

However, even as Indonesia's health ministry released the study by the World Health Organization (WHO), police said they were passing the case to prosecutors, who could charge company officials accused of dumping toxic waste.

On another front, Newmont, the world's No. 1 gold producer, suffered a setback in Turkey, where a court rejected its appeal to reopen a gold mine accused of soil contamination.

"The WHO results confirm what we have maintained all along, that local villagers suffered no illnesses attributable to pollution or eating fish from Buyat Bay," Newmont spokesman Doug Hock said of the report issued in Indonesia.

The case centers around accusations that mine operations dumped toxic waste into Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi. Villagers who ate fish from the bay became sick. Denver-based Newmont denies any wrongdoing, saying it followed all regulations and kept the government informed of its activities.

Five employees of the local unit, PT Newmont Minahasa Raya - an Australian, an American and three local mine officials - have been detained. The unit's president, another U.S. citizen, was questioned. Indonesian police said they have submitted dossiers on all six officials to prosecutors.

Under Indonesian law, police outline their cases in dossiers sent to prosecutors, who then decide whether to lodge charges, a process that can take several weeks.

"We are hopeful they (prosecutors) take into account all available information," Hock told Reuters, noting the release of the WHO report by the Indonesian health ministry.

The study from the WHO and Japan's Institute for Minamata Disease found that mercury levels in individuals, water and fish samples near the mine were not unusual. Hock said the company understood the results also showed no indication of cyanide or other heavy metals in water samples.

Mining at the North Sulawesi site stopped in 2001 but Newmont continued processing stockpiled ore until August this year, when it began reclamation, monitoring and management activities it says will continue for at least three years.

Charges of violating environmental regulations carry jail terms of up to 15 years when people are proven to have died or become seriously ill as a result of pollution, police say.

Meanwhile, Turkey's top administrative court rejected an appeal by Newmont to reopen a gold mine it operates, which local residents say harms the environment.
The ruling, which upholds a decision in August by a lower court, paves the way for the eventual closure of the mine in Ovacik, located near the town of Izmir in western Turkey. Verdicts given by the "Danistay" top court are irreversible.

Residents, environmental activists and local governors opposed the operation of the mine, the first gold production facility in Turkey, citing its acid-leaching process that is allegedly causing soil contamination.

Commenting on the case, Newmont's Hock said the company was confused by the ruling, since it had been asked by the Turkish government, which supports the mine, to submit a new environmental impact report and apply for new permissioning.

"We have been going through the process to reopen the mine," he said.

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