13 Sep 2002

Kanak politician says botched preparations halted construction of Noumea nickel plant

10:27 am on 13 September 2002

A Kanak politician, Raphael Mapou, says botched preparations are the reason why work at the Goro nickel plant in New Caledonia has been suspended indefinitely.

The Canadian company, Inco, decided to stop construction work after further disruptions at the site where it plans to build a 1-point-4 billion US dollar smelter.

All technical and engineering staff were withdrawn on Tuesday and more than a hundred foreign employees have now flown out of the territory, leaving only security staff at the site.

Mr Mapou has told a local newspaper that relations with the Kanak people were botched as was the impact of the project on the environment.

The vice-president of the southern province, Pierre Bretegnier, says Kanak leaders take a big risk in jeopardising employment opportunities for decades to come.

He says they have banked on a reflex of fear and racism.

A statement by Goro Nickel issued in Noumea says it is studying the conditions for work to be resumed.

The company also says it will meet its contractual obligations which in New Caledonia alone will apply to hundreds of employees of subcontracting firms.