Blowing up rock shelters by mining company compared to Taliban

Blowing up rock shelters by mining company compared to Taliban

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian minister compared a mining company’s blowing up of ancient rock shelters to the Taliban’s destruction of giant Buddha carvings and vowed Thursday to better protect indigenous cultural heritage.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said Rio Tinto acted legally in 2020 when it destroyed two rock shelters in Juukan Gorge in Western Australia state that had been inhabited for 46,000 years.

She said Australia’s laws would be updated to prevent such destruction…

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian minister compared a mining company’s blowing up of ancient rock shelters to the Taliban’s destruction of giant Buddha carvings and vowed Thursday to better protect indigenous cultural heritage.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said Rio Tinto acted legally in 2020 when it destroyed two rock shelters in Juukan Gorge in Western Australia state that had been inhabited for 46,000 years.

She said Australia’s laws would be updated to prevent such destruction of indigenous sacred sites from happening again.

“It is unthinkable that any culture would knowingly destroy Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids or the Lascaux caves in France,” Plibersek told parliament.

“When the Bamyan Buddhas were destroyed in Afghanistan, the world was rightly outraged. But that is precisely what happened at Juukan Gorge,” he added.

Two giant 1,500-year-old Buddhas carved out of a cliff in Afghanistan’s Bamyan Valley were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 because the statues were considered to be idols.

Rio Tinto demolished the caves, which contained artifacts tens of thousands of years old, to gain the cheapest possible access to iron ore reserves. The chairman, chief executive and two other executives of the Anglo-Australian company have lost their jobs after outrage over the destruction.

Plibersek committed his government to drafting new laws with the Alliance for the Protection of First Nations Heritage, a group of 30 indigenous organizations, to better protect their cultural heritage.

His centre-left Labor Party government, which replaced the previous Conservative administration in elections in May, also responded to an interim and final report from a parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of the Juukan Gorge.

The government accepted all but one of the reports’ recommendations. The report wants the indigenous affairs minister to have ultimate responsibility for protecting cultural heritage. The government would prefer that Plibersek take responsibility and that the issue be resolved in talks with the indigenous alliance.

Jamie Lowe, chief executive of the National Indigenous Title Council, which represents Australia’s traditional owners of land, welcomed the changes promised by the government, which he said were long overdue.

“The disaster, destruction and act of violence in Juukan Gorge and the PKKP people about two years ago was something that happens to our people on a regular basis and the need for comprehensive national reform is something that has been a priority for our people. . for decades,” Lowe told the Australian Broadcasting Corp., referring to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples, the traditional owners of the gorge.

The PKKR Aboriginal Corporation said the traditional owners of the demolished caves had not been properly respected or consulted by the government. “We would have expected the minister to want to meet with us before making a public announcement about our country and our cultural heritage,” Corp. Chairman Burchell Hayes said in a statement.

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