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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Gold fever in Papua New Guinea
Gold bars
Do Papua New Guinea's mountains hide a treasure trove?
Papua New Guinea is awash with rumours that the government is searching New Ireland province for up to 10 tonnes of gold.

The gold, worth an estimated $375m, is said to have been mined and processed by the Japanese during their occupation of the island in World War II.

When the plane carrying the gold crashed into a mountainside, villagers allegedly stashed it in a cave.

It is not the first time rumours of a Japanese gold stash have surfaced in Papua New Guinea. There are also claims of gold in the depths of a bay, based on a story that a submarine carrying some of the trove sank there after an American plane bombed it.

The latest rumous gathered pace two weeks ago, when a man reported finding rotting crates of bullion in the mountains.

The story eventually reached the government's ears and the Papua New Guinea cabinet is said to have excitedly sent defence forces and police - including helicopters and divers - to try to confirm and secure it.

If the gold did exist, other greedy leaders in the past would have grabbed it already
New Ireland Governor, Ian Ling-Stuckey

The government itself is saying the story is mere "speculation".

Chief Secretary Joshua Kalinoe said that soldiers and police had only been sent to the province to keep the area calm, while training in preparation for a tour of duty to the Solomon Islands.

New Ireland Governor Ian Ling-Stuckey has urged others not to get too excited about the claims, saying he does not believe the gold exists at all.

"If it did, other greedy leaders in the past would have grabbed it already," he said.

The government may not believe the rumours, but the locals certainly seem to. Even before the current excitement, some prominent New Irelanders are said to have tried to form a company to salvage the gold.

Villagers in Kalili, where one of the military-police camps is based, say the military has digging tools there and are fending off curious onlookers and refusing to talk to them.


Anger at outsiders

Local people are reported to be angry at what they see as "outsiders trying to grab the mountain-top riches", and Mr Ling-Stuckey said there had been threats to "throw out the army and outsiders".

A local building contractor also said that villagers have applied for a court order to prevent outsiders from entering their traditional lands.

Mr Ling-Stuckey has appealed to the government to make an official statement on the issue, saying he was worried that people were inundating his office, expecting the bullion to be distributed across the province.

Papua New Guinea, which relies heavily on overseas aid, would certainly find the windfall of a gold stash useful. But whether it actually exists remains to be seen. A team of journalists attempting to verify the story at one of the villages said they were sent away under military escort and told to leave New Ireland in 24 hours.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

In search of golden treasure
11 May 02  |  Asia-Pacific
Country Profile: Papua New Guinea
09 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Papua New Guinea
19 May 03  |  Country profiles


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