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By Otilly Rabuku

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, Aug. 9) – Fiji landowners say the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) has kept them in the dark over the illegal export of soil to Kiribati.

Landowners from the tokatoka Sawaieke, mataqali Eloto from Viseisei Village, are still awaiting word from the land agency after the illegal exports were highlighted by the FijiSUN.

Landowners said that the operation, by private contractor Gecko Trucking, in Vuda, to sell rich alluvial soil to a Kiribati company without proper consent from authorities was illegal.

The company, owned by Wella Pillay, is leasing the land from the land-owning unit.

A spokesman for the landowners, Timoci Ifereimi Namuairi, said yesterday that they have yet to hear a response from the NLTB.

"It seems like they are listening more to what Wella has to say rather than addressing our problem," Namuairi said. "He (Wella) is still paying $10 per cubic meter, whereas he is supposed to be paying $19.50 per cubic metre."

Mr Namuaira said that Mr Pillay had been requesting the authorities to examine the soil, whether it was topsoil or not, which was not as important as their problem.

"The regular excuse they used to give us was that there was lack of transport, but after this issue was exposed in the media, an NLTB transport came to the village and took us straight to the site," he added.

Nearby residents said that bulldozing and cartage of the soil was only done under the cover of darkness.

This involved men from the company and 10-tonne trucks, which carted soil to the Lautoka Wharf from where it was loaded on to a barge.

The landowners said they were arranging a lawyer to look into the matter.

No comments could be obtained from the NLTB or the trucking company.

August 9, 2004


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