Work to reopen the world-scale Bougainville copper mine after a 20-year hiatus can potentially begin within two years, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare was reported as saying Monday.

Restarting operations will cost an estimated $4 billion, Australian media quoted Somare as saying at the opening of the PNG Mining and Petroleum Investment conference in Sydney.

The Panguna mine on PNG's eastern island of Bougainville shut down in May 1989 after sustaining damage during a secessionist uprising in which the issue of how income from the mine should be distributed was a key factor.

Bougainville's local media reported Monday that an agreement paving the way for the reopening of the mine had been reached with local landowners over the weekend.

"We are very satisfied on the meeting's outcome," the president of shareholder association European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper or ESBC, Axel Sturm told Islands Post's online edition. "This gives Bougainville the chance to recover financially from all suffering in the last 20 years."

The shuttered project is owned by Australia-listed Bougainville Copper Limited, or BCL, which remains active, and is in turn is owned 53.58% by Rio Tinto, 19.06% by the government of Papua New Guinea and 27.36% by public shareholders, according to the company's website.

The mine produced concentrate containing 3 million mt of copper, 299 mt (10.5 million oz) of gold and 763 mt of silver between commencing operations in 1972 and the end of 2008, representing 45% of PNG's exports over that period, BCL said in its 2008 annual report.

It produced 552,012 mt of concentrate containing 165,957 mt of copper, 13,862 kg (488,968 oz) of gold and 48,414 kg of silver in full-year 2008, its final full year of operation, according to the report.

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