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Suva, Fiji Islands

MEDIA RELEASE August 8, 2002


The Fiji Labour Party has decided not to participate in the Talanoa talks on land and constitutional matters, scheduled for this weekend at Outrigger Hotel, Sigatoka.

FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry has informed the convenor of the Talanoa talks, Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, that holding these talks in the prevailing political climate would be counter productive.

"There are three reasons why we have decided that the talks be deferred for some time," said Mr. Chaudhry.

The first is that the government has not made available to us full details of NLTB’s (Native Land Trust Board) proposal on land leases and documents needed for our discussion. We had requested these some weeks ago.

While an outline of new lease proposals was made available, the details requested are important from our viewpoint if we are to have any meaningful discussion.

As an example, there is a serious discrepancy between government and NLTB’s announced position on tenure of leases. Government’s outline document talks of 30-year leases while the NLTB General Manager, Mr. Kalivati Bakani, has indicated tenure of 50 years.

On the rental issue, government is yet to inform us as to the maximum rental that may be charged on the unimproved capital value (UCV) under the new NLTB proposals.

There are other important matters of details, which we need to know for our own consideration and consultation with our constituents before we can commit ourselves to serious discussions, said Mr. Chaudhry.

The second reason is the damage done to race relations and reconciliation process by the insulting remarks hurled at the Indian community by SDL members of parliament.

The Prime Minister has not helped the situation by refusing to heed widespread calls made by civil society groups to chastise the members concerned.

It is just not possible to engage in crucial talks if the other side chooses to malign and insult Indians and then expects cooperation from their leaders to resolve important national issues.

"SDL members of parliament must learn to respect our feelings and sensitivities if they want our cooperation. No community would want to lose its self respect no matter what is at stake," aid Mr. Chaudhry.

The third reason is that in seeking our cooperation to solve their problems, government must reciprocate on issues that are of concern to us. There is little sign of that on their part.

Government has ignored our repeated calls to assist thousands of displaced cane farmers who were made virtual destitutes overnight on expiry of their farm leases. While it does not hesitate to spend millions of dollars on race-based affirmative action programmes for the indigenous community, it shows absolutely no feeling for the displaced Indian farmers who continue to encounter immense hardship.

Government has paid no heed to the constitutional requirement to include the Fiji Labour Party in cabinet. It is hiding behind its appeal to the Supreme Court on the issue but is making little effort to constitute that court to bring the matter to finality, said Chaudhry.

"Cooperation and goodwill arise from mutual respect and understanding of each other’s feelings, needs and sensitivities. Let us get to that point before we can expect to go any further, said Mr. Chaudhry."


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