November 26, 2019 / 1:27 AM / 19 days ago

Bougainville Copper shares jump on independence vote

SYDNEY, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Shares in Bougainville Copper Ltd , the former operator of the giant Panguna gold and copper mine that was shut by civil war, have surged in recent days as an independence vote on the island raises expectations of a possible restart to mining.

The value of BCL shares has tripled since early last week to trade at A$0.35 on Tuesday, coinciding with the start of a non-binding independence referendum in Papua New Guinea’s region of Bougainville, which has kicked off in a peaceful atmosphere.

The referendum, which runs until Dec. 7, is a key part of a peace agreement reached in the aftermath of a decade-long war between Bougainville’s rebel fighters and Papua New Guinea forces that ended in 1998 and took about 20,000 lives.

BCL’s general manager Mark Hitchcock said in a statement to Reuters he believed the investor interest in the company reflected increased levels of confidence in Bougainville’s future.

Formerly controlled by Rio Tinto, BCL now counts the PNG government and Autonomous Bougainville Government as major shareholders.

It is one of at least two companies, alongside a group including explorer RTG , that claims the rights to develop Panguna, with the dispute currently being tested in the PNG courts.

The fighting was triggered by disputes over the now shuttered Panguna project, set off by anger over land royalties and rivers polluted by mining. (Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in SYDNEY; editing by Richard Pullin)

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