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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (The Independent, May 24) – Information made public on an eventual oil refinery deal by Vanuatu Petroleum Refinery (VPR) at Havana Harbor on North Efate, has created a strong negative reaction from Efate "natatok".

Among others concerned like chiefs and landowners from Havana Harbour, the outspoken chief Kalkaua is voicing his concern saying that before the government of Vanuatu and the ministry of lands want to undertake such a project, Vanuatu people need to be consulted and made aware of the impact on their environment today and for future generations.

"We are currently running a tourist project including a custom village and a conservation area at Havana Harbour, purposely to protect our marine life, including the feeding and the breeding of 50 turtles, clam shells, coral and fish in order to attract tourists and visitors. Now that we are starting to see the fruit of our work, we do not want such projects to damage what we have started with our own means," chief Laumanu stated.

He said the national government "does not give us funding to support the project".

"Because we want to be viable in the future, we are appealing to the government and national leaders to conduct a feasibility study in the first place, and invite some of our chiefs and community leaders to travel out and visit an oil refinery, to witness themselves what impact such projects could have on the environment, instead of accepting such a deal, that can ruin our lives to day and our future, if we are not considering this matter seriously. Vanuatu is a paradise, so why not protect our wonderful and beautiful land, with all riches God gave us in order to satisfy our needs. We understand the oil project would create a lot of jobs, but our main concern is our environment. The biggest part of our land (Havana) has been given out, so we do not want to see us fighting each other in future like our Melanesian brothers from Bougainville and the Solomons."

Laumanu reminds everyone concerned that Havana Harbor is disputed land.

He is not the only one to speak out. The Ombudsman, from Lelepa Island, Peter Taurakoto joins chief Laumanu advising that people from Efate cannot put their signature on something they do not know or understand.

"While 'disputed' Havana Harbor is still to find its true custom owner(s) (it was said these might be in the historical records of Mr. Daniel McDonald), chiefs and people need to be well-informed about details of the project in black and white, before signing any documents. Maybe someone has received only one or two million Vatu [US$18,500] to give up Havana Harbor. We must take our stand and each or every one of us give our comments on the matter, before it's too late.

We have the example of Samoa Point, next to Havana Harbor, which was bought for a small price and investors bought the area and sold it again to another investor for millions of vatu and left nothing much for local people," Taurakoto claimed.

The Independent understands that the government has committed itself to the project because of alleged long-term viability.

The director general for lands, Russell Nari says the government decision is to support a local company to produce petroleum products from crude oil rather than bring in the range of fuels. The project involves building a wharf that will eventually receive oil tankers and fishing vessels from around the region, says Douglas Malosu, liaison officer for Vanuatu Petroleum Refinery.

Havana Harbour tourist project will be officially opened mid-next month.

May 26, 2006

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