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Aboriginal group calls for Sandfire CEO to step down after heritage damage

MELBOURNE, Dec 4 (Reuters) - An Aboriginal group on Monday called for the chief executive of Sandfire to step down for the miner's failure to address heritage damage at a copper mine in Western Australia.

Sandfire said last week it had discovered damage to an artefact scatter at its Monty copper mine that had occurred over 2017 and 2018, and that it had informed traditional owners and the state's heritage regulator.

The Yugunga-Nya Aboriginal Corporation said Sandfire had waited a year to tell them about the damage, and called for a government inquiry. State premier Roger Cook supported an enquiry, and on Monday called Sandfire's actions “egregious” local press reported.

Investors are closely watching Australia's management of Aboriginal heritage after Rio Tinto destroyed historically significant rock shelters in 2020.

Western Australia, which had beefed up its heritage protection in response to the incident, agreed to roll back those protections back earlier this year, in response to an outcry from farmers.

In a statement, the Yugunga-Nya called on the board of Sandfire Board to remove CEO Brendan Harris and asked board chairperson John Richards to "take control of the situation and engage openly and meaningfully with the Yugunga-Nya".

"If something of value is destroyed compensation should be paid. Sandfire's actions show they don't value our heritage," said elder Andrew Gentle Snr in a statement, adding that Sandfire had declined to offer compensation.

Sandfire did not respond to a request for comment.

Last week, the company said its internal investigation was "significantly complicated" by staff departures after the mine, which has been exhausted, was placed on care and maintenance, and that it was in discussions with its board and the Yugunga-Nya. (Reporting by Melanie Burton; editing by Miral Fahmy)

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