Aussie officials, SMI in closed-door security meet

No details of the meeting were provided to the press but in attendance were SMI general manager Mark Williams and Col. Rainer Cruz, commanding officer of the 1002nd Infantry Brigade stationed in Malungon, Sarangani.

Also present during the meeting was Chief Supt. Fidel Cimatu, regional police director for Southwestern Mindanao.

The names of Australian Embassy officials were not disclosed.

It is believed that increased guerilla activities around the main drilling site of the Xstrata Plc-controlled mining company in Tampakan, South Cotabato have raised concerns in Australia.

In January this year, some 40 fully armed guerrillas of the New People’s Army attacked the police headquarters in Tampakan injuring one police officer and an employee of the local government unit.

The communist-led NPA rebels said the attack was a punitive action against the local police for their alleged role in protecting the exploration activities of SMI in Tampakan.

It was the second NPA attack in Tampakan following the January 1, 2008 assault at the main base camp of SMI in Barangay Tablu, of the same town. 

On March 9, staunch anti-mining activist Eliezer Billanes was gunned down by still unidentified assassins in Koronadal City.

Anti-mining groups and environmentalists, including some sectors in the Catholic hierarchy here blamed SMI and the military as responsible for Billanes’ murder.

Mark Williams, however, said they were also outraged over the killing and reiterated SMI’s policy of respecting human rights and dissent.

He said the local police should get into the bottom of the killing.

SMI-Xstrata is currently on its extended pre-feasibility study stage and company officials said they hope to wrap up their studies within the year.

With ore deposits of over 12.8 million tons of 0.6 per cent copper and 15.2 million ounces of 0.2 grams per ton of gold, the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project is reportedly the biggest of its kind in Southeast Asia and the Western pacific region.

Its financial technical assistance agreement (FTAA) was first owned by Western Mining Corporation which abandoned the project in the late 90’s after facing strong opposition from environmentalists and the Catholic Church here.

WMC sold its rights to Indophil in 2002 which in turn sought financial backing from Xstrata.

In 2007, Xstrata exercised its option over the project and strengthened its position in the company by cornering 62.5 per cent of the SMI. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews contributor)