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By Tom Kathoa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, July 1) -- The Buka airport on Buka Island has been shut by Ieta landowners claiming ownership of the land where the airport is located.

The move to close down the airport on Tuesday afternoon is believed to have been triggered by the landowners’ dissatisfaction over the government’s failure to pay for the use of their land.

Buka Island is off the northwestern tip of Bougainville, an island province of Papua New Guinea.

The airport’s closure has greatly affected the operations of third level operators and Air Niugini.

However, Air Niugini was able to fly into and out of Buka yesterday before the landowners were able to barricade the runway with rubbish.

Air Niugini only flies to Buka on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while Airlink flies to the island five days in a week, although on Tuesday it did not.

About 22 passengers were scheduled to arrive and leave the island on Tuesday but this did not happed due to the airport shutdown.

A Civil Aviation spokesman said the agency’s concern is the safety of the passengers and it is up to the government to settle the dispute with the Ieta people.

Reports from Buka say that the landowners had earlier told the airport users they would close the airport at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Acting Administrator Peter Koles was understood to have discussed the matter with the landowners, but details of the outcome were not available as of press time.

July 2, 2004

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