FIJI'S PRIME MINISTER QARASE SAYS LAND PROBLEMS AMONG 2001 PRIORITIES

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 1, 2000 - Fiji Sun/The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Interim Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said in his New Year message that solving the land leases problem is among his priorities in 2001, Fiji newspapers reported today.

He said previous governments failed to solve the problem of meeting the needs of both indigenous Fijian landowners and ethnic Indian tenants on farming land.

This was because all those involved in the debate were politicians with political interests, he said.

But he said his government - backed by the military and the Great Council of Chiefs and appointed following the May 19 coup by indigenous Fijian gunmen - has no political interests.

He spoke as hundreds of agricultural leases around the country expired and newspapers carried reports of Indian farmers dismantling their homes and moving off the land.

Mr. Qarase said his government would do its best to promote the renewal of leases. But he said current lease arrangements had to be reviewed, as the indigenous Fijian landowners were disadvantaged.

"We will seek an arrangement that is fair to both the tenant and the landlord and one that reflects market value," Mr. Qarase was quoted in the Fiji Sun as saying.

He said another priority of his government will be helping the disadvantaged and the poor.

He called on all races and communities in Fiji to put aside their differences and support his government for the benefit of all.

"I expect a new constitution to be promulgated by the end of 2001," The Fiji Times quoted him as saying.

He insisted that no section of the community would be disenfranchised.

He also said all the human rights provisions of the abrogated 1997 constitution remain intact "albeit by decree."

Meanwhile, ousted Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry - Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister - was quoted by The Fiji Times as saying:

"The President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, should do the right thing and dismiss the interim administration as per the High Court ruling.

"We have suffered long enough after the events of May 19 and the rule of illegal and illegitimate government should not be prolonged.

"The international community awaits the return of democracy, after which Fiji will move ahead positively, economically and socially.

"I have to thank my supporters for their prayers during difficult moments and want to assure them that truth and justice will prevail in the end."

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

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

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