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By Ana Tudrau

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, Mar. 26) - Tourists enjoying a boat ride on a Sonaisali Island Resort boat in Yasawa waters last week were confronted by a group of men who ordered them to leave.

The incident was one of several recent confrontations between Fiji tourists and village landowners that has raised concern in the country’s tourist industry.

The MV Cagimalua left the resort last Saturday with eight guests and arrived at a sandbank close to Plantation Island Resort for a stopover at 12.30 p.m.

The boat was forced to leave after the men ordered them to leave because they had not paid their dues to use traditional fishing ground waters.

The same weekend, Solevu villagers threatened a director and owner of Seashell Cove Resort, Virginia Smith, over the use of their fishing waters.

According to Mrs Smith, a Jone Kadivuka had telephoned her to stop all boats from cruising across Malolo/Mamanuca waters immediately for failing to pay a $375 landing rights fee for the past three months.

Mrs Smith issued a check for $370, which was collected by one Sakeusa Tunitolo, also of Solevu Village.

In the Yasawas, trouble brewed again between landowners and Blue Lagoon Cruises when its manager, George Ravai, reported that two villagers handed him a letter from the Tui Yaqeta. The letter threatened the company that the people of Matacawalevu had been advised to cut the anchor chain of the company’s boats unless it paid compensation for using their fishing grounds.

Fiji Hotel Association president Olivia Pareti expressed concern over the incidents, saying the issue was a sensitive one.

She said authorities need to sit together with landowners and work out what should be done "before the situation gets out of hand."

"Government needs to explain to the people what is happening because in some of these places, the legality of the demands can be questioned."

Police have appealed to landowners and resort owners to raise their grievances through the proper channels.

"They must not take the law into their own hands," Mr Koroi said. "The tourism industry is a vital link to Fiji’s economic recovery. As such we must not do anything that will threaten its survival by putting our self-interest first."

Mr Koroi said traditional fishing grounds had yet to be legally registered and stakeholders should negotiate.

Disputes, he said, could be resolved amicably through dialogue.

March 26, 2004



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