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By Malia Sio and Asenati Taugasolo Semu

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Feb. 21) – The pulenuu – mayor- of Lepea in Samoa yesterday vowed that villagers would protect visitors to the famous Papase'ea Sliding Rocks and help catch anyone who threatens people swimming there.

The Sliding Rocks is a popular attraction in hills near Apia on Samoa’s main island of Upolu.

A'i Vavao Foai Aulima said the village council will meet to discuss Saturday's incident in which a hooded gunmen threatened, injured and robbed a young American visitor.

"I am shocked and saddened by this," A'i said.

Injured was 20-year-old Crystal Abarra. She was with colleagues Megan Carrington, 19, and Joshua Bloomfield, 18.

All are staying in Samoa as part of the Youth With a Mission (YWAM) Fellowship, Tulaele.

The trio had been swimming and was on their way back up from the Papase'ea Sliding Rocks site.

He said Papase'ea Sliding Rocks has been a safe swimming attraction for locals and overseas visitors alike.

The gunman's crime will not go unpunished, he said.

A'i said that the village council will do all they can to find this man. If he is a villager, he said, the village council would also penalize him.

"This incident will be discussed in this week's village council meeting, who did it, how he got in and ways to prevent future incidents," A'i said.

He said the village's women's committee and matai – chiefs - help take care of Papase'ea Sliding Rocks. Lepea, Se'ese'e and Tuanaimato committees share this work.

A'i expressed remorse that visitors were attacked and extended his sympathy to the young woman and her two friends.

The village mayor said this incident is heavy on his mind as he holds responsibilities to enforce village rules, and ensure those who use these village attractions are safe.

He also added that Lepea and Se'ese'e uphold strict rules in the village, and at the sliding rocks.

"We want people to know they are safe. Their safety is important to us we are looking out for them, and want to avoid these incidents in future," he said.

He said he is comforted that the Police are investigating the matter, alongside the village council.

The on-duty caretaker from Se'ese'e, Tui Lealaitafea, who was up at the sliding rocks yesterday, said this is the first incident there involving a gun.

"A few times people's bags have been stolen, but no one has been injured or threatened with a weapon before," he said.

He said he knows people committing these acts are not people of the villages who take care of the sliding rocks.

"There are other ways which lead to the sliding rocks from below, so these people get in through there," Tui said.

However, he reassured the public and visitors that the Sliding Rocks has always been safe, with dedicated caretakers.

Though official Police comment could not be obtained yesterday, Police sources said their investigations were continuing, and that nobody has been charged yet.

February 24, 2005

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