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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Dec. 21) - The Fiji government says it does not have funds to buy back an island in the Northern Lau Group recently purchased by movie star Mel Gibson.

Fiji Lands Chief Executive Niumaia Tabunakawai was replying to claims by the traditional owners of Mago Island that questioned the sale of the island for $24.7million (US$14.8 million) to Gibson.

"We simply do not have funds to buy back the land and such deals should be sorted out between the owners and the landowners," Tabunakawai said.

He said he had not received a request from the Namalata Development Council to look into the issue with the intention of buying back the island, which is now freehold land.

Gibson bought Mago Island, in the northern Lau Group, following a recent visit.

Namalata Development Council chairman Timoci Waqalevu said the island was declared freehold property after his forefathers settled on an unfair transaction with cotton planters in the 1800s.

He said the planters gave the villagers 2000 coconuts and intimidated them with guns before chasing them out.

December 22, 2004

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