FIJIAN LANDOWNERS CLAIM RIGHTS TO MAHOGANY FARM

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MELBOURNE, Australia (Oct. 30, 2002 – Radio Australia)---Indigenous landowners in Fiji's Serua province say they will harvest the mahogany trees on their land despite government claims that it is the rightful owner of the plantation.

The landowners took over the mahogany farm last week, claiming the government had a 25-year lease over the land that expired in 1989.

Fiji correspondent Mika Loga says a spokesman for the Serua landowners, Isireli Fa, has rejected the government's claim that it has a 99-year lease on the land, which came into effect in 1964.

"The fact of the matter is the lease is for 25 years and the lease has expired - my clients have not consented to its renewal in any manner or form," Fa says.

The Native Land Trust Board has admitted it issued a 25-year tenure when the 99-year lease was already in place.

Board spokesman Nimilote Naivalumaira says the misunderstanding has triggered the takeover of the Serua mahogany farm by the landowners.

He says the Ministry of Lands has confirmed the lease tenure was for 99 years and has warned the landowners of drastic action if they attempt to harvest the mahogany.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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