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By Josua Tuwere

SUVA, Fiji Islands (March 30, 2001 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Independence for Fiji's Polynesian island of Rotuma should be debated freely and fairly to find out if it enjoys popular support, says Chief Magistrate Salesi Temo.

He made the comments in the Suva Court yesterday while acquitting former Fiji resident Gagaj Rafaeok Riogi of sedition.

Riogi, represented by Suva lawyer Tevita Fa, admitted he was a member of the clan, which wanted independence from Fiji in a lawful way.

Rotuma, the main island of a small group 390 kilometers (234 miles) northwest of Fiji, was taken over by the British in 1881 and became part of Fiji on Fiji's independence in 1970. Most Rotumans now live and work on Fiji's main islands.

Mr. Temo said Malmahau Clan members were entitled to raise the issue of independence through lawful means.

"The issue must be debated fairly and freely by the people of Rotuma, if certain segments of them entertained it," he said.

"Only then will they find out, whether or not, the idea enjoys popular support. If it does enjoy popular support, then the appropriate legal remedies should be sought."

Temo said the State had not proven its case beyond reasonable doubt because of the questions that remained on whether Riogi had any seditious intentions.

Rotuma Council Chairman Visanti Makrava said during the trial that the Council did not recognize the Malmahau Clan.

Riogi has been allowed to return to Australia after Mr. Temo ordered police to return his passport and travel documents.

Riogi denied causing ill feeling on Rotuma in November last year by installing Rigamotu Tonu as a Rotuman chief.

The installation caused controversy because it was not recognized by the Rotuma Council.

Mr. Temo, recounting evidence presented, said Riogi, who resides in Australia, derived his authority from the Malmahau Clan.

"He claimed that the clan was the royal clan of Rotuma, and it has existed since 4000 BC headed by the then Gagaj Sau Lagfatmaro the First. He said that the clan superseded the seven districts of Rotuma."

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

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