10 Jan 2007

Fiji military takes over Australian owned Vatukoula Mine

8:42 am on 10 January 2007

Armed Fijian troops have taken over the failed gold Vatukoula mine after some 1600 local workers were sacked.

Emperor Mines, which owns the mine in Fiji's west, said armed troops arrived at the site over the weekend, demanding keys and access to the mine site.

The Australian newspaper quotes Emperor spokesman Patrick Bindon saying the company had been working with the military since then, trying to explain its decision to cease mining operations after four years of losses.

The mine was closed on December 5, on the same day when military strongman Frank Bainimarama overthrew the elected government of Laisenia Qarase in a bloodless coup.

About 100 Fijians remain employed there, as maintenance and exploration work continues to see if the mine can be reopened.

The company has since repatriated a handful of Australians who worked at the mine.

However the military has denied taking over the mine, saying armed troops were simply guarding it.