Junior explorer RTG Mining is claiming a point in the fight for Bougainville’s massive Panguna copper and gold mine, saying landowners have refused to back Bougainville Copper’s (BCL) push for an extension to its exploration licence.

Investors were unimpressed, however, pushing shares down 18 per cent to 27.5c in Tuesday lunchtime trade.

RTG shares over the past three months. Source: Investing.com
RTG shares over the past three months. Source: Investing.com

A warden’s hearing was held on Monday in Panguna to determine whether the Rio Tinto subsidiary had the necessary support of Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association members for the granting of the extension.

Consent from the traditional land owners is required for the issue of any exploration licence on their customary land at the 1.5 billion tonne copper and gold project on the central island of Bougainville, a process which has historically escalated to wide-scale political unrest on the island.

RTG (ASX:RTG) said the “strong majority held message” from the landowners was that “they will never grant BCL access to their lands and do not support an extension of BCL’s previous licence or the grant of a new licence”.

BCL has, however, disputed that. There was “quite widespread support for BCL”, company secretary Mark Hitchcock told Stockhead.

“The warden conducted the hearing as he should, let people that have an interest have a say, but a lot of people that spoke are from outside the mining area,” he noted.

“So the numbers that were there, they were overwhelming numbers for supporting BCL, but they possibly didn’t all get their say.”

RTG alleges that BCL did not submit a valid application for an extension by the deadline.

But Mr Hitchcock said the application was submitted on May 5 2016, four months before the September 6 2016 cut-off.

RTG said the landowners’ objection is just one of more than 100 formal written objections lodged against the extension application.

The company reported earlier in December that it had been given the green light from Bougainville locals to start work on the Panguna mine.

RTG also recently upped its interest in Central Exploration Pty Ltd — a consortium that owns the minerals within the Panguna mine and is working with the local landowner group to secure an exploration licence.

However, Mr Hitchcock alleges RTG has no “standing at all in this fight”.

“They have no application in process,” he said. “The application still belongs to us, it’s in the process of renewal and they are just agitating because they think there’s a gap, which there isn’t. So they have no standing.”

RTG has been contacted for comment.