VILLAGERS DEFY GOVERNMENT OVER SAMOA AIRPORT

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By Alan Ah Mu

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, July 5) - Villagers living on 22 acres of land east of Faleolo International Airport in Samoa yesterday vowed to resist any government attempt to move them.

"Over my dead body," their highest-ranking matai, Toalepaiali'i Toeolesulusulu Suafaiga Siueva Pose Salesa III, said.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi has instructed that legal proceedings begin against those on the land.

The standoff is the result of a dispute with Satapuala Village over a land exchange deal done more than 10 years ago.

The Government says it wants Satapuala families living on the disputed land to move for safety reasons because of the airport.

"What safety?" Toalepaiali'i said. He said this was nonsense.

Tuilaepa told Parliament on Thursday that the Government tried to settle the matter through customary Samoan-styled discussions. But since that failed, he has instructed the Minister of Civil Aviation to contact the Attorney- General.

This is to resort to legal proceedings, Tuilaepa told Parliament.

The Prime Minister said that in 1993, Toalepaiali'i and 30 other matai of Satapuala signed an agreement consenting to vacate the 22 acres. The acreage is a coastal strip, seawards of the main road.

In exchange for vacating the property, Satapuala was given 60 acres of Government land inland of the main road nearby, Tuilaepa said.

Tuilaepa said the Government has done its part but Satapuala has not done its by leaving.

Government wanted the land because of safety issues arising from aircraft landing and taking off at Faleolo International Airport, he said.

One health reason in particular he mentioned was the threat to hearing because of the noise from the aircraft.

"That's all bloody rubbish," Toalepaiali'i said yesterday.

He said he wrote the agreement Tuilaepa is referring to and so understands better than the Prime Minister what it means.

What happened, he said, was that Government wanted to cut down his coconut trees. This was for a clearer flight path for two aircraft, the former Polynesian Airlines HS748s

The agreement signed was for 60 acres to be given to Satapuala in exchange for Toalepaiaili'i's coconut trees being cut down, he said.

"The land was not an issue, the trees were," he said.

Toalepaiali'i was Minister of Civil Aviation in 1985 and said that is his field of expertise.

Referring to the safety issues mentioned by Tuilaepa he said: "My hearing is still good?

"How many times a day does an aircraft take off?"

Toalepaiali'i said 95 percent of the time aircraft approach to land and take off at the western end of the airport, not the eastern end where the disputed land is.

He puts the size of the disputed land at closer to 30 acres instead of the 22 acres mentioned in Parliament.

It begins immediately at the end of the Airport Authority's fence east of the airport along the coast and stops where Faleatiu Village starts.

Toalepaiali'i lives a few feet from the fence, where he ran a resort in past years.

He said he plans to re-launch the resort on White Sunday.

"I'm going to send an invitation to Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi," the former MP said. "He'll be the guest speaker."

Toaleapaiali'i has set February 28th of next year as a deadline for Government to meet several demands regarding land matters. These not only concern the acreage currently talked about but also land elsewhere nearby.

"If they don't respond we'll act," he said,

Amongst the demands is the return of 6,000 acres, across the road from Faleolo airport.

Satapuala claims the land was wrongfully taken in 1894.

July 6, 2005

Samoa Observer: www.samoaobserver.ws/

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