Friends of the Earth said it was extremely disappointed by Rio Tinto's decision, announced today (Wednesday), to go ahead with an titanium dioxide mine on the island of Madagascar. Campaigners objected to the mine which will damage the unique biodiversity of the island and do little to benefit local people.

The announcement gave approval for development of the mine near Fort Dauphin on the south-east coast of Madagascar, with production expected to start in 2008.

The project, managed by a Rio Tinto subsidiary QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), would involve removing coastal forest to extract titanium dioxide, a mineral used to produce white pigment for paints, plastics and paper. The decision comes 10 years after Friends of the Earth’s then Campaigns Director, Andrew Lees, died while investigating proposals for the controversial mine. Andrew was found in the forest having collapsed and died from heat stroke. Madagascar has a unique and rich variety of flora and fauna – of its estimated 200,000 plant and animal species, three quarters exist nowhere else in the world. Friends of the Earth is concerned by the impact on biodiversity – as well as its impact on freshwater resources, and tourism.

Friends of the Earth Executive Director Tony Juniper said: “This is a very sad day and very bad news for the people of Madagascar. This mine will not solve the terrible problems of poverty on the island, but will damage its precious biodiversity. Rio Tinto is exploiting natural resources in the developing world and once again, it is the local people who will pay the price. It is time international laws were introduced to protect the interests of people and the environment. It is clear that companies cannot be trusted to do so. The Government of Madagascar has agreed to contribute US$35 million to the establishment of the port, as part of its Growth Poles Project funded by the World Bank.