VICTORIA — British Columbia's government is using a Crown corporation to buy 61 disputed coal licences located in an area considered sacred by First Nations in the province's northwest.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines says BC Rail will buy the licences in the Klappan area from Fortune Minerals (TSX:FT) and POSCO Canada for $18.3 million.

The Tahltan Central Council claims the Klappan as part of its traditional territory and calls it Sacred Headwaters, where the salmon-bearing Skeena, Stikine and Nass rivers meet.

About 40 members of the Tahltan occupied Fortune Minerals' camp on Mount Klappan in September 2013, before banning the company from the area months later.

The ministry says the companies' development schedule was moving faster than talks with the Tahltan, and that was preventing the development of a shared vision for the area.

It says the sale will allow discussions to continue on responsible management, and the firms still hold a 10-year option to buy the licences back at the original price.