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By Michael J. Field

New Zealand's Indo-Fijian community are to send container loads of basic food stuffs to Fiji, uncertain of whether they will be hit with tariffs when it arrives.

Appeal organizer Babu Gyan Singh said two containers of food with peas and potatoes will arrive in Fiji on July 30, after a fund-raising appeal among the 19,000 strong Indo-Fijian community here.

"It's all donated food and we don't know what the dollar value of it is as it’s all for public purposes," Singh said. "I don't think they will charge duty on this as it is all for the people. What is the choice between the rules and saving people?"

The help would not just be for the Indian community.

"It is not that we are only sending this relief to Indian people; if we come across Fijian people in need of help we will give them assistance too."

He acknowledged many of Fiji's merchant community as the food gifts may undercut their market.

"But we are sending the food to people who are incapable of buying food from the shops anyway."

The appeal has gone out through Hindi radio in Auckland under the auspices of Shree Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Maha Sabha. The distribution of food in Fiji will be carried out by the Fiji branch and by contacts of Singh, an Auckland legal executive who has lived here 11 years.

Distribution would be through schools.

"Our community here has acknowledged that people in Fiji are without food and necessities," Singh said.

He said families within the Indo-Fijian community had been hearing reports from their own families of the problems, but it was underlined how serious the issue was when Television New Zealand began broadcasting pictures.

He said there was no doubt in the community's mind that people were on the edge of starvation.

"Our people here are really, really worried."

He estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Indo-Fijians, most of them farmers, would need help to survive.

The Pacific Forum donated the two containers and the first was immediately filled by a donation of 200 bags of peas and 200 bags of potatoes by Jayanti Prabhu in Christchurch.

"We're quite confident we will fill the second container; people here are giving everything in food and cash."

They will not send cash to buy food in Fiji because basic foodstuffs, including flour and yellow split peas, are about 60 percent cheaper here.

Singh said the New Zealand community will continue to raise funds and send containers as long as there is need in Fiji.

Michael J. Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-MAIL:

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