Papua New Guinea's Ok Tedi copper mine operating normally

SYDNEY Wed Jan 29, 2014 2:21am EST

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SYDNEY Jan 29 (Reuters) - The Ok Tedi copper mine in Papua New Guinea was operating normally on Wednesday, amid legal attempts to shut it down over waste disposal practices, a spokeswoman for the mine said.

Papua New Guinea's National Court on Friday ordered the operating company Ok Tedi Mining to stop discharging rock waste into a river system - effectively forcing the mine to halt operations, according to media reports, which also said the papers would be served on Tuesday.

"We still have not been served any papers ordering the operations to stop, so for us it is business as normal," Ok Tedi Mining spokeswoman Estella Cheung said.

Government and court officials could not be reached.

Prime Minister Paul O'Neill, who has said closure of the mine would have "horrendous" economic consequences for the country, was traveling and unavailable for comment.

The mine, which has produced 4.5 million tonnes of copper in concentrate since 1987, ships the material by a pipeline and barges more than 1,000 km (600 miles) to silo vessels in the Gulf of Papua, before it is loaded on to freighters and sent for smelting in Asia and Europe.

Papua New Guinea's government took control of the mine last year and counts on its revenue to help support the national economy, is reportedly attempting to have the court order reversed.

O'Neill in September announced Papua New Guinea would take over full ownership of the mine after hastily enacting new laws in parliament.

The laws also quashed a 12-year-old decree providing former operator BHP Billiton immunity from prosecution for environmental damage stemming from the mine in the 1990s.

Ok Tedi has accounted for as much as 10 percent of Papua New Guinea's gross domestic product in past year, though its economic importance is diminishing as the mine's reserves are dug out.

Annual production peaked at 212,000 tonnes in 1995. Output in 2013 was 105,523 tonnes, the lowest since 1988. (Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Ed Davies)

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