Policemen shot, wounded near New Caledonia nickel mine

by Reuters
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 08:54 GMT

By Cecile Lefort

SYDNEY, May 28 (Reuters) - Two French police on the Pacific island of New Caledonia were shot and wounded on Wednesday by young Melanasians, angered by mining giant Vale's chemical spill in a river.

The two gendarmes suffered slight injuries after being hit by shotgun pellets fired by protesters blocking a highway near the Vale's $6 billion nickel mine, a spokeswoman for the nearby city of Mont Dore told Reuters.

Police had since restored order and were maintaining a large security presence in the area, she said.

Southern New Caledonia has been the centre of violence since Saturday when rioters torched vehicles and buildings near the controversial mine, causing more than $20 million worth of damage, according to Vale's estimates.

Protesters have been frustrated by the lack of response from indigenous Kanak chiefs to the chemical spill.

Vale representatives and local authorities were due to hold a meeting late Wednesday with the chiefs to discuss the situation, she said.

The local government suspended operations at the nickel processing plant in Goro three weeks ago after some 100,000 litres of acid-tainted effluent leaked, killing about 1,000 fish.

An independent report on the acid spill which was expected to be submitted to the southern province on Wednesday had prompted speculation the Vale plant could re-open soon.

"We are expecting a decision by the southern province as early as today to partially allow the re-opening of the site," said Catherine Wehbé, director of New Caledonia business organisation Medef.

The southern provincial government and Vale declined to comment on the timing of any production restart.

The local government had previously said it would not allow a resumption of production until safety procedures were revised, an oversight committee was reinstated and an independent expert's report was completed.

"The conversations with the government and community stakeholders continue," said Vale spokesman Cory McPhee.

"There has been no declaration of force majeure at this time," he added.

The Goro mine produced 4,100 tonnes of nickel in the first quarter, up 41 percent on a year ago. Vale is the world's second-biggest nickel producer, but Goro made up just 6 percent of its nickel output in the first quarter.

Global nickel prices hit a 27-month high earlier this month and are up by about 40 percent this year, driven by a decision by Indonesia to halt exports of raw nickel ores and news of the Goro closure. (Additional reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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