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By Margaret Wise

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 20, 2000 - Fiji Times)---The Tailevu Provincial Council has given the Native Land Trust Board a mandate to negotiate the proposed sale of mahogany forests on its behalf.

But it has deferred a decision on the board's proposal for landowners to take over the harvest of the forests until further details are made available.

The NLTB proposal follows a government assurance when the project started in 1965 that landowners would be considered first for the right of sale.

The board wants the logs to be processed locally. It believes a substantial sum of money would be lost overseas if the forests were sold as standing trees.

Vugalei representative, Ratu Emori Latitoga, said individuals claiming to represent landowners should be avoided. The district of Vugalei is an area where mahogany plantations are located.

"Talks on mahogany dealing should be left to the NLTB. We do not want anyone else to negotiate the sale of our forests,'' he said.

The council also supported the views of another speaker who called for backing of the NLTB in as far as mahogany was concerned. The request for details on a landowner-company was "so we know what we are doing.''

Landowners' concerns and fears about the Government's handling of matters relating to land were also widely discussed.

Tudrau Ratu Apenisa Naidrodro said Fijians should give careful thought to

land matters.

"ALTA was introduced when government was headed by a Fijian. Indigenous communities the world over are fighting for ownership rights to their land. We must not be complacent otherwise our children will be left with

nothing,'' Ratu Apenisa said.

Another delegate said Fijians should be concerned as the Government had

ignored their wishes to remove native land from the ambit of ALTA.

"And they've gone ahead with the Malaysia land use trip even though we were against it. Legislation can only be changed by Parliament and they have the numbers to do that,'' he said.

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

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