FIJI REFUGEES SAY THEY WERE LURED BY IMMIGRATION PROMISES, CAMP ORGANIZER

REJECTS CLAIM

SUVA, Fiji Islands (September 25, 2000 - The Fiji Times/Fiji's Daily Post/Fiji Sun/PINA Nius Online)---Indo-Fijian farmers claimed yesterday that they were lured to a refugee camp with promises of emigration, The Fiji Times reported today.

Residents from Muaniweni said Anit Singh, the organizer of the refugee camp at Lautoka, promised them resettlement in New Zealand.

"A majority of farmers here took advantage of the situation and went to Lautoka on the understanding they would be resettled overseas," said a farmer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Camp organizers earlier said the refugees were fleeing violence by indigenous Fijians in the unrest following the May 19 seizure of Parliament and the taking hostage of the Mahendra Chaudhry-led coalition government by indigenous Fijian rebels.

Camp organizer Mr. Singh described claims that he promised families visas overseas if they moved to the camp as baseless.

"It may be police propaganda to discredit us, because they are trying their best to do this," he said.

"The only thing I promised them was safety, security and welfare here at the camp."

Meantime, a farmer at Muaniweni said residents had wanted a police post in the area and were relieved when one was built after the coup.

"Thugs destroyed crops, slaughtered our animals and left our shop virtually empty," he said.

"But we went to Lautoka for safety and security and not after being harassed by villagers as some may claim. There were some problems in the beginning but it has calmed down now."

Farmer's wife Veena Chand said they returned to Muaniweni about a month ago.

"We went on the understanding that if the situation normalized we’d return. And so we did," she said.

Advisory councilor Farooq Khan said the situation was very bad for the first four days after the coup.

The situation was brought under control after a meeting with a chief from the area.

"A truck left this morning to get other families from Lautoka," he said.

A team of 16 police officers, with the assistance of 11 Police Mobile Unit personnel, now is maintaining peace in the area.

But Mr. Singh, speaking from the refugee camp, denied claims that seven families had returned to their homes.

He said all 73 families, consisting of 342 people, were at the camp.

Camp officials refused to allow The Fiji Times to speak to residents.

In other developments:

* A meeting of chiefs, landowners, and farmers in Tailevu, north of Suva, will be held in a bid to strengthen relationships in the community, The Fiji Times reported.

* Fiji's Daily Post reported witchcraft is being openly practiced in the Monasavu area by indigenous Fijians angry over the way the army acted when it moved into the area and retook control of the country's main hydropower scheme.

* The Fiji Sun reported interim government Finance Minister Ratu Jone Kubuabola and permanent secretary Savenaca Narube are in Prague in the Czech Republic to attend meetings organized by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. It said they are expected to look for a $42 million loan to cover the shortfall in the interim government's mini budget.

* The Fiji Military Forces repeated that soldiers found guilty of brutality against villagers would be disciplined, the Fiji Sun reported. It followed reports of excessive use of force by soldiers hunting rebels and escaped prisoners.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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