Fortescue mining firm regrets Australia sacred site failure

image copyrightReuters
image captionFortescue is the world's fourth largest iron ore mining company

An Australian mining firm says it regrets clearing a key Aboriginal site in the west of the country without following proper procedures.

Fortescue Metals Group was supposed to develop the land in the presence of community elders, who were to salvage artefacts and perform cultural rites.

But work to expand an iron ore mine went ahead without them due to what the firm called an "administrative error".

Mining companies are under pressure to improve management of indigenous sites.

Earlier this week, another mining company, BHP, said it was investigating a rock fall in the Pilbara, also in Western Australia, which damaged a sacred site. The site was not part of active mining operations.

The incident at Juukan Gorge led to the resignation of the firm's chief executive and other senior members of staff.

'Sincere apology'

The latest incident in the Weelumurra Creek area happened despite an agreement that elders of the Wintawari Guruma people should be present when the site was developed.

But Fortescue chief executive Elizabeth Gaines said the work had been carried out earlier than scheduled.

"I have spoken to Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) Chairman Glen Camille regarding this incident to personally express my regret and sincere apology on behalf of Fortescue," she said in a statement.

"We have carried out a full investigation into the matter which has shown that this unfortunately occurred as a result of an administrative error... We have paused all clearing works at this site as we work with WGAC on the matter."

But Mr Camille urged the Western Australian government to prosecute the company, according to Reuters news agency.

The government said the matter was being investigated.

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