PEACE-KEEPING IN PENRHYN

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AVARUA, Cook Islands (September 23, 2000 – Cook Island News)---A police peacekeeping unit from Rarotonga will remain on Penrhyn until threats of violence have died down over a land dispute on the atoll’s motu Tokerau-te-Pahonu.

Protesters traveled to the motu where Cook Island News understands a pearl farming expatriate family of Lilian Matareka Grubnau of Penrhyn island lives.

Eight police officers, including Commissioner Greenfield Wichman, flew to Penrhyn on a chartered Air Raro flight following a faxed report to CINews of unrest, which the Island Council warned might develop into full-blown violence.

FREEHOLD

Tongareva Mayor Tini Ford, who signed the fax, told of the Island Council’s dissatisfaction with a High Court ruling in Rarotonga, which declared the disputed motu as ‘native freehold land.’

He said Tokerau-te-Pahonu is not surveyed land and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of the Island Council.

The Land Court, he added, has no right to make any decision on that particular land as it already has landowners.

He said this is what the people of Tongareva are unhappy about, besides the fact that the Land Court appears to have disregarded the rights of the landowners as well as the decision of the Island Council.

TO COURT

Trouble began when a local company, Polynesian Black Pearl, of which Matareka Grubnau is a director, built a house and a jetty on properties the Council is saying belongs to two other families.

In an ensuing attempt to resolve the dispute, the Island Council - according to the Mayor - discovered that the pearl farming company was at fault and ordered the removal of their building and jetty within a month.

However, that decision was not heeded.

Matareka Grubnau took the matter further to the High Court in Rarotonga last year. The court’s ruling was in her favor.

GOODWILL

When it began operating in Tongareva, the Polynesian Black Pearl Company paid a goodwill sum of NZ$ 380,000, according to the mayor’s fax to the Island Council. (This figure differs slightly to that revealed by Deputy PM Norman George yesterday as NZ$ 350,000. George added that he thought the company was also paying some NZ$ 250,000 a year to the Penrhyn local government.)

(NOTE: NZ$ 0.407 = USS$ 1.00 on October 1, 2000)

In the fax, Mayor Ford said the people of Tongareva have decided to repay the amount to the company as well as remove the farmers from the island.

He said Penrhyn islanders have held three meetings to date over the issue and want the company to stop farming in Penrhyn lagoon.

Mayor Ford said the council had already protested against the company and wants all Penrhyn islanders to think of their future in light of foreigners taking over the islands lagoon.

VIOLATIONS

In the meantime, Police Minister Norman George told a press conference of his concern about a possible violation of human rights in Penrhyn.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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