GOVERNMENT QUIET AS INDO-FIJIAN TRAGEDY LOOMS

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 3, 2001 – Fiji’s Daily Post)---The Interim Administration remains quiet on what is shaping up to be a major humanitarian disaster as the Indo-Fijian farming community continues to become homeless through expiring land leases.

Families around the country continue to dismantle their homes as a total of 1,333 leases expired on December 31, last year. Interim Home Affairs Minister Ratu Talemo Ratekele stated that no plans had been made to provide any practical assistance to the evicted families.

"We haven't looked at that issue yet so I will not be able to tell you anything on that," Ratu Talemo said.

However, some evicted families and Indo-Fijian leaders are asking for the F$ 28,000 (US$ 12,939) cash grant scheme to be re-implemented. National Farmers Union national president Krishna Chand Sharma yesterday said that it was the Interim Administration's responsibility to address the eviction problems.

"People are losing their homes and farms on a daily basis and we have a government which has turned a deaf ear on the problem," Mr. Sharma said. "It is painful to see people dismantle their homes ... They are desperate and are in real need. They are either living with their families or renting and mostly they are spending nights in shacks."

Mr. Sharma said it was time that farmers should get their share of money from the Sugar Cane Growers Fund Authority.

"These farmers urgently need cash and this fund is rightfully theirs so it should be given out to them... or else what is the purpose of having such a fund.

"At this time we need practical solutions and not things like Task Force Committees."

Farmers in Labasa also want cash grants so that they can put up new homes and start alternative means of survival other than farming. In a meeting of NFU farmers in Labasa, members said the F$ 28,000 was one of the fair ways they could be assisted.

Dinesh Chand, 25, a rice farmer in Nausori, said life has become a burden as he has lost both his home and rice farm.

"I was feeding my family with the 8-acre rice farm I had and now I am out of it. I don't know how I will survive as that was the only means of cash flow for me," Mr. Chand said.

"And together with my livelihood, went our three-generation- old home. It was not just me but my grandfather was born here ... It's the saddest moment of my life, seeing my home turn into bits and pieces."

Mr. Chand said the Native Land Trust Board was to be blamed for the current state of affairs of the farming community.

"I have very good relations with my landowner but NLTB is the ‘poking’ stick. They ordered me to dismantle my home and they are the ones making sure that the two races stay apart," he said.

Another housewife in the same settlement, Nirupa Roy, said they had finished dismantling their homes but were wondering how they would pay for putting up a new home and changing their children's schools.

"School is just three weeks from now, and here we have a new home to put up .... My husband and I are wondering how we will manage it all," Mrs. Roy, a mother of four said.

"I don't have words to describe the amount of problems we have and I am sure each Indian farming is undergoing the same."

Pushpa Wati and her family, who dismantled their home on the New Year's Eve, are currently staying in a shack and a tent.

"Well, we are starting all over again... ," Mrs. Wati said. "It's difficult, painful and annoying but looks like we have to suffer."

For additional reports from Fiji’s Daily Post, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Other News Resources/Fijilive.

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