Rio Tinto starts internal review into sacred caves blast

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Rio Tinto said on Friday it will look at ways to improve its internal processes and governance after drawing the ire of indigenous groups and the Australian government for blasting two ancient sacred Aboriginal caves.

The world’s biggest iron ore miner last month destroyed two caves at Juukan Gorge that had previously contained evidence of continual human habitation stretching back 46,000 years as part of a mine expansion.

“On behalf of the Rio Tinto board, I would like to apologise to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people,” said Simon Thompson, chairman of Rio Tinto, in a statement containing his first public comments since the blast nearly a month ago.

“The decision to conduct a board-led review of events at Juukan Gorge reflects our determination to learn lessons from what happened and to make any necessary improvements to our heritage processes and governance,” he added.

The review, to be conducted by independent non-executive director Michael L’Estrange AO, will begin immediately and seek input from Rio employees as well as the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people. The findings will be made public, Rio said.

A final report, expected by October, will focus on events at Juukan Gorge to assess Rio Tinto’s internal heritage standards, procedures, reporting and governance, as well as examining the company’s relationship and communications with the PKKP.

It will also consult indigenous leaders, traditional owners and experts on the subject.

The review will complement and feed into a national inquiry into the destruction of the caves. Under terms of the inquiry, the joint standing committee on Northern Australia must report back by Sept. 30.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne and Shashwat Awasthi in Bengaluru; Editing by Stephen Coates and Kenneth Maxwell)

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