IMPASSE OVER CEMETERY LAND IN FIJI

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (September 1, 1998 - Radio Australia)---A group of indigenous landowners in Fiji has prevented access to a public cemetery, demanding compensation from the government for the use of their land.

As Radio Australia correspondent Karan Pillay reports from Suva, road blocks have gone up despite warnings from Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka that dissident landowners will be punished for any breaches of the law.

"Prime Minister Rabuka sent out a clear message to indigenous landowners that wrong-doers will face the full force of the law and breaches of the law will not be condoned.

"Nevertheless, about 70 landowners have erected another road block, this time cutting off access to a cemetery at Lautoka in western Viti Levu.

"The protesting landowners claim the government owes them money from 1926 when their land was reportedly leased. They allege government has not paid them for the lease of land in the last 72 years.

"This latest road blockade come just days after another dissident group lifted theirs at the country's only hydropower station at Monasavu, when the government finally agreed to look into their grievances.

"The new road block also has disrupted burials at the cemetery, with one family having to make a traditional reproach to the landowners before they were given access.

"A spokesman for the landowners says the protests will continue until the government promises to look into their claims.

"Opposition leader Jai Ram Reddy said strong steps should be taken to remove the illegal road block saying this type of situation sends a wrong signal to the world.

"A government team is expected to meet with the landowners soon.

"Karan Pillay, Suva."

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