Papua New Guinea may let Barrick reopen mine if court case dropped


By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE, July 17 (Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp ABX.TO said on Friday it would be willing to talk to Papua New Guinea (PNG) about reopening the Porgera gold mine but only without preconditions, after Prime Minister James Marape urged it to withdraw court action against the state.

Barrick Niugini Ltd (BNL) was responding to a statement from Marape on his Facebook page on Thursday saying PNG would be willing to partner with Barrick to reopen Porgera, but only after withdrawing its legal action.

The world second-biggest gold miner said it would take years for Porgera to reopen if the country turned to a new operator.

"The court has encouraged us to find a solution through direct negotiations, but BNL's attempts to engage constructively have been met with only hostility and pressure by the SNT (state negotiating team)," Barrick said in a statement released on the Porgera Joint Venture's Facebook page.

Barrick, in partnership with Porgera landowners, on April 14 submitted a plan it said would deliver $4.7 billion in economic benefits over 20 years "representing the best agreement by far that PNG has ever negotiated with a foreign investor".

Barrick stopped production at Porgera and sued the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government after it refused to extend the mine's expired lease in April because of community unrest and pollution concerns.

"If they (Barrick) withdraw the court cases, we can talk commercial with them," Marape said.

The Porgera Joint Venture is owned by Barrick and China's Zijin Mining Group 601899.SS, each with 47.5%, with the remainder owned by local landowners and the Enga provincial government.

Barrick last week approached the World Bank's International Centre to settle the dispute, while moving ahead with the judicial review.

The dispute over the mine lease comes at the same time as Marape is holding up other mining and gas projects to get better terms from foreign investors, even as the country suffers a major economic slump.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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