PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Port Vila Presse/PINA, Feb. 2) - Two years of ongoing unrest amongst chiefs and people of Central and Southern Pentecost has been resolved - by Prime Minister Edward Natapei Tuta Fanua'ariki.

He visited the Northern Province to perform a custom peace ceremony.

It came after the latest series of arson attacks - during Christmas and New Year - could not be solved by the police.

A man lost his hand after he was knifed, more than 100 gardens damaged, 40 houses destroyed and four nakamals burnt down.

The main areas of damage were at Lebutsesap and Nokowanet.

Natapei's Private Secretary Daniel Bangtor explained that the ceremony at Nokowanet village was the result of an operation conducted by the Police in September 2001.

During this the police mistreated the custom chiefs, some of whom are Tanmonoks (paramount chiefs) in the area. The police ill-treatment of the chiefs resulted in law enforcement officers being banned from the island.

The chiefs had set a fine of VT500,000 and 10 pigs to be paid by the police before they conducted any operation on the island.

Bangtor further explained that since the police operation in 2001 there has been a stand off between the chiefs. This has resulted in them not carrying out their chiefly duties in their communities.

As part of his opening speech, Prime Minister Natapei said his Futunese customary chiefly title "Tuta Fanua'ariki" means a leader who brings peace to the people.

Therefore he decided to go to Central Pentecost to do just that. He also apologized to the chiefs who were ill-treated by police and appealed for peace and harmony amongst the chiefs and their people.

During the ceremony Natapei made payment to the chiefs of 10 pigs with rounded tusks to the value of VT200,000 and VT500,000 cash.

On their part, the chiefs' representative Chief Tanmonok Mikael Tabi expressed deep appreciation to the Prime Minister and the Government. This was for recognizing the need to establish peace and for performing the custom ceremony with the chiefs.

He appealed to the Government and the chiefs to continue to work together for the welfare of the people in Central Pentecost.

This custom ceremony was performed before Natapei and his delegation were officially welcomed to the village. There other speeches were made by chiefs, church leaders, politicians and Penama province's representatives.

The Prime Minister's official speech ended the ceremony late in the evening.

Natapei was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Serge Vohor, Education Minister Jacques Sese, Pentecost MP Charlot Salwai, Malvatumauri President Chief Paul Tahi and Acting Police Commissioner Arthur Caulton.

February 3, 2003

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