CHIEFS REJECT FIJI FOREST DEAL

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By Matelita Ragogo

SUVA, Fiji Islands (March 21, 2000 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Landowners are angry over the government’s proposed sale of Fiji mahogany forests to the Commonwealth Development Corporation.

And the Native Land Trust Board has written to the Government condemning the fact that the board was never consulted on the proposal.

Meanwhile, the Government defended its decision to pursue negotiation with the corporation, and said consultants for the Government had advised in favor of CDC. It also said the involvement of landowners was important and is being pursued through the Ministry of Fijian Affairs.

Major landowner and opposition parliamentarian, the Tui Wailevu, Ratu Kinijioji Maivalili, warned the Government and the corporation: "Do not invade our land and forest."

Ratu Kinijioji told both parties their agreement would not be accepted by landowners.

Mahogany forests stand on land owned by Cakaudrove, Bua, Serua, and Tailevu. Most forests are in Serua.

The Government announced in August 1999 that the CDC was the preferred bidder. However, a month later a Government delegation was sent to review a proposal by American-based Total Resource Management in New York.

Ratu Kinijioji has written to CDC Fiji representative Troy Stubbing and Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry warning them.

Serua Provincial Council Chairman Atunaisa Lacabuka said the province was not consulted.

"We own the biggest mahogany forests so we question the Government's decision," Mr. Lacabuka said.

"We respect the government, whichever is in power, but we expect this respect to be reciprocated.

"The belief on which our forefathers gave thousands (of acres) and even did their own planting has been betrayed."

In a letter dated March 13, 2000, Native Land Trust Broad deputy general manager Cema Rokoloma said the board was concerned because it had been "purposely left out of consultations."

Mrs. Rokoloma also expressed the NLTB suggestion that landowners could reimburse the Government for its investments in the forests so they could regain control of their resources.

"We would like to make it clear that the viability and sustainability of this business will depend on the level of support the NLTB and Fijian landowners will give," Mrs. Rokoloma said.

A reliable CDC source confirmed no agreement had been signed.

For additional information, see: Fiji Mahogany Business Deal Concluded at http://pidp.ewc.hawaii.edu/pireport/2000/March/03-21-15.htm 

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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