SAMOA MURDER TRIAL CHANGES PUBLIC’S ATTITUDE TOWARD POLITICIANS

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By Craig DeSilva

APIA, Samoa (April 17, 2000 -- Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat/PIDP/ CPIS)---The long-running murder trial of Samoa Public Works Minister Luagalau Levaula Kamu not only wrapped the small island nation with negative media attention. It has also changed the way Samoans regard their public servants.

Former Minister of Women’s Affair Leafa Vitale and former Communications Minister Toi Aukuso were sentenced to death last week by Judge Andrew Wilson for the murder of Luagalau. (However, it is unlikely the two men will be executed. Since Samoa gained independence in 1961, the country’s head of state has commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment.)

Kamu was shot to death by Vitale’s son, 34-year-old Alatise, during a political gathering in Apia on July 16, 1999. Alatise is currently serving a life sentence for pulling the trigger.

"There hasn’t been anything like it for 100 years," said Radio Australia correspondent Alan Ah Mu, who covered the trial in Samoa’s Supreme Court. "The leader of the opposition who knows his history told us that Luagalau’s assassination was the first political assassination in 100 years."

Just like the United State’s Watergate hearings during the early 1970s -- which eventually led to the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon -- the Samoan murder trial has altered the public’s perception of its government leaders.

Mu said stories of dirty politics that surfaced during testimony of the murder trial have made the public more cynical about government.

"There are constant rumors, speculation and finger pointing amongst the people in the know and in Apia," he said. "There is a certain amount of cynicism toward politicians."

The trial also tossed Samoa into the media spotlight. International radio and TV stations covered the trial. The daily newspaper, Samoa Observer, printed the daily transcripts on its website, as did Samoa Live.

For court transcripts, see http://www.samoalive.com/court_transcripts.htm

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