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protest against rudd

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    Papua New Guinean landowners have extended their blockade of the historic Kokoda Track and threatened protests during Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's visit next month.

    Representatives of the Koiari people said an unsealed road to McDonald's Corner, where the World War II track begins just outside Port Moresby, had been blocked off.

    It would stay that way until Australian company Frontier Resources had its exploration licence renewed, they said.

    Thursday's protest - the second in as many weeks - was led by local Bagua Watti, who represents 2,000 Koiari people.

    The Koiari stand to make more than $100 million over 10 years if the company is allowed to mine a copper and gold deposit worth an estimated $A6.7 billion.

    Watti said his people were angry the PNG government, which had gone quiet on the issue.

    The government was using environmental studies as a tool to stall the project, he said.

    "The mining will still go ahead," he told reporters.

    "The PNG government is in support, but after Kevin Rudd walked the track and went back and became the PM he is now telling the PNG government what to do.

    "I don't want the Australians to interfere with us. We will do a protest march for him (Rudd) telling him to shut up, mind his own business and let us landowners to mind our own business."

    Watti - who would become one of the chief administrators of royalties and compensation payments from the mine - said his people needed the project.

    "Most of the money that comes in for the track goes back to Australians living here or back there," he said.

    Watti said a push to have the track World Heritage-listed was causing suffering for his people.

    "This road to McDonald's Corner is still unsealed and shows how little development comes from trekking companies' money," he said.

    "This is not negotiable - the mining will go ahead or no-one will walk the Kokoda Track."

    Some 600 Aussie diggers died on the track during a critical push to stop Japanese troops from reaching Australia, and it is a pilgrimage site for thousands of Australian trekkers each year.

    Frontier's managing director Peter McNeil said the 600-metre section of track that would be affected by the mine was not the trail's original route.

    Kokoda Track Authority chief executive Warren Bartlett said there had been similar talk for years, and he had no problem with Frontier's exploration licence being renewed.

    "Trekking companies have been talking about using older routes for years, there are three or four tracks parallel to the track that would be affected by the mine," he said.

    "Let them explore for another four or five years.

    "The PNG government should allocate a renewal to explore because it doesn't necessarily mean they will go ahead with the venture. The costs and conditions could make mining unviable.

    "As long as they don't interfere with war graves along the track, where there are still unknown soldiers, then all this seems premature."

    © 2008 AAP

 
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