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By Alan Ah Mu

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, April 10) – A Samoan high chief has rejected an angry letter by a fellow villager claiming that their village, Satuimalufilufi, wants their ancestral land back.

Village negotiator and high chief Letelemaana Tala Rees said Satuimalufilufi does not intend to reclaim the land, now occupied by Faleolo International Airport.

He said the village has informed the government about this decision in meetings that dates way back to the time of former Prime Minister, the late Tofilau Eti Alesana.

Letelemaaana said Satuimalufilufi met and decided not to ask for the airport land back.

Instead, they would remain on government land at nearby Samea and Falepuna, because they'd buried their dead there, and had churches, schools and personal property established there.

"But we did say to Tofilau, ‘Please, we want more land’," Rees said.

Their numbers were growing at the time. They also asked that land they now occupy, be officially put under the name Satuimalufilufi, he said.

At present, it is still under STEC (Samoa Trust Estates Corporation), formerly WSTEC.

Letelemaaana said this request is before government and is an issue present, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, knows very well.

They are awaiting a reply from the Prime Minister - and that is where matters stand, he said.

Letelemaaana gave this brief outline in response to strong criticism by a Satuimalufilufi resident in a letter to the Samoa Observer.

According to Letelemaana, Satuimalufilufi moved off what is now airport land in 1942 in order to build a landing strip for military planes. At the time World War II was on.

But in an 11 and a half page letter written in Samoan, Patelesio Tauiliili said the land was taken over forcibly in 1942.

The understanding, he said, was that once the war was over the land would be returned. When the marines left in 1944, land remained in the hands of the authorities, the letter continues. It harks back to 1983 when Police locked up villagers after they had occupied airport land.

Legal action has been filed in court but government developments continue on the land, the letter says.

In particular, La'auli Alan Grey's Hotel now being built.

"Why has the government allowed the hotel to be built on Satuimalufilufi land without us agreeing to it?" Tauiliili questioned.

"And when legal action is before the court?"

The letter said less than 20 families were placed at Samea in Mulifanua, and Falepuna close to Apolima on quarter acre lots, which are nowhere enough for everyone.

"Leaders of government, why are you treating this village like this? They are like refugees …."

Over 100 acres of land given to Satuimalufilufi is swamp that can't be cultivated, he said

"Satuimalufilufi and the New Zealand government did not sign an agreement in 1942 or with the Samoan government in 1962 for an exchange of land at Faleolo and Satuimalufilufi next to Mulifanua, for the land they now live on."

There are other complaints including the fact that villagers have to lease land from government at Falepuna to live on.

What the letter writer wants is for his village to return to live again on land now occupied by the airport.

But Letelemaaana said the village should have sanctioned Tauiliili's letter before it was sent to a newspaper.

He stressed that he was not pro-government, only that there were proper channels in the village to follow with such things.

"It's not a village of children," he said. "It's a letter that could stir the peace."

Letelemaaana explained that he and co-holders of the Letelemaana title and holders of the Saipaia title, met with government and La'auli Alan Grey, before the hotel construction began.

"We approved of it," he said.

Letelemaaana welcomes the economic benefits the new hotel will bring to his village.

"I believe seventy percent of the labourers there are people of my village," he said.

Besides, when completed the project would offer other jobs to people of the area he said.

April 13, 2005

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