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SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, Feb. 27) – About 300 squatters in Fletcher Road in Suva, Fiji, have two weeks to move or their homes will be bulldozed.

The Suva City Council ultimatum affects about 60 families living in the settlement.

Council lawyer Tanya Waqanika said any illegal homes still standing on March 15 would be demolished.

Ms Waqanika said the land was owned by the council.

"The initial date of demolition was to have been February 12 but the residents asked for a month's extension, and it was granted," she said.

Ms Waqanika said the council had already held a fruitful meeting with the squatters.

"The squatters were of the view the Tui Suva was the landowner," she said. "But they were informed that the Ministry of Land had leased the land to SCC for 99 years in December last year. The land is zoned recreational and as such it must be used for recreational purposes, such as parks."

Ms Waqanika said the council had told the squatters they had been ill-informed on the rightful owner of the land.

She said the squatters were paying rent to the Tui Suva.

"The issue of rent is between the squatter and Tui Suva," said Ms Waqanika

"As far as the council is concerned, we have the lease to the land and people should not be misguided by wrong information as to who holds the lease title. SCC has been granted a 99-year lease and it is our intention to ensure the land is restored for the purpose that it was leased for," she said.

Ms Waqanika said the council had received complaints from residents living in the area.

They were angry about the increasing number of squatters flocking there.

"The ratepayers were threatening not to pay rates, and failing to pay rates affects the council's service delivery to the people," she said.

Other concerns raised by the residents were security issues and the negative impact on the valuation of their properties as a result of squatters there.

Ms Waqanika said the council expected it would need police assistance as it believed there would be strong resistance from the squatters.

"We have advised the squatters that if Tui Suva was of the view the land rightfully belonged to him, he could seek legal redress by taking out an injunction against the council from moving in to demolish the illegal structures."

She said the illegal residents needed to realise they could not squat on land without the permission of the landowner.

"We gave them the grace period in good faith and if they refuse to move by March 15 then we have no choice but to pull down their homes."

Ms Waqanika said despite the council giving the squatters the grace period, people were still building illegal structures.

"We are aware that there is a faction among the squatters that will refuse to move, despite being given the month extension. In the past two months SCC has demolished two illegal concrete structures there. We are aware that some of these squatters lived initially at Wailea Settlement and recently moved to this particular area," she said.

Tui Suva Ratu Epeli Kanakana disputed Ms Waqanika, saying the land was indeed his, claiming the title was held by his lawyer. Ratu Epeli said he did not know how the council could claim the land. He said he only gave the land to the squatters because there was nowhere else for them to go.

He said his only stipulation was if they wanted to build they had to build proper homes. He wants to know whether squatters can claim for the demolition of their homes. He said the land was part of his qoliqoli. He said if the council was to go in and demolish the homes, he did not know what the squatters could do.

He said the council had not yet called a meeting with him to discuss the matter, saying that that should have been done first.

Ratu Epeli maintained he was not collecting any payment from the people he allowed to squat on that particular piece of land.

One squatter who did not want to be named, said he was willing to move out with his family, but there should be land for him to go to.

"The Government should give us a piece of land for us to live if they want to remove us from here. I came from Ba, my lease had expired and I do a little of this and that but where am I going to go to if they remove us?" he asked.

He said he spent the last of his money building his house at Nanuku Settlement.

He said the Tui Suva had given him written permission to live on the land, without having to pay for anything.

"If SCC wants to build the park then where will we go? What's more important, the Children's Park or where people like us live?" he asked.

He said he had been living there since April last year.

As for the demolition team coming in on March 15, he said he would see what he would do when the day arrived.

Seiniana Sauturaga, 48, said the only thing she wanted to know was if she would be compensated following the council's advice. She said she was told in December last year by the council to build a stronger house in case of a hurricane, which she did. She said she had been living in her new partially completed home for a month and now the council wanted her to demolish it.

She said she would gladly let them destroy the home she had just built but only if the council paid her the $4,000 she had used to build it.

She said she had lived on one end of the settlement and it was only four years ago that she had moved a few meters from her original site.

Ekari Lili, 38, said she and her family only came to know there was a problem when council workers went around the settlement giving eviction notices.

She said they did not have any place to go and would just stay until the day the council forcefully removed them.

She pleaded for government assistance in finding a piece of land for them to move to.

Sereana Rawaqa, 53, said she had been living in the settlement for a month and had come straight from her village on Matuku, Lau.

She said she and her family had enquired on how they could build their home and were told there was committee in the settlement that liased with the Tui Suva on those wanting set up their homes.

February 28, 2005

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