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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 27)—Landowners who have blocked a railway track in Ba say their action was not influenced by any politician but was motivated by ethical reasons.

"We are carrying out the protest to ensure we get what we deserve," said Samuela Kautoga, the spokesman for Tokatoka Masokanalagi of Sorokoba Village in Ba. The tokatoka has blocked one of the main railway tracks to the Rarawai Mill for the past 15 days.

Mr Kautoga said they were furious with the statement by the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar, Laisenia Qarase, that the landowners were influenced by Labour Party and National Farmers Union leader, Mahendra Chaudhry.

"We are doing this on our own and the dispute is between us and the Fiji Sugar Corporation," Mr Kautoga said.

"Mr Chaudhry had visited us to try and resolve the dispute because he was concerned about the welfare of the farmers in parts of Ba and Tavua that usually transported their cane by rail," he said.

"Mr Qarase himself, who is the Minister for Sugar, has not yet met with us so he does not have any right to criticise us or Mr Chaudhry," said Mr Kautoga.

The dispute began when the FSC refused the landowners' proposal that the corporation take up a 50-year lease for the property.

After a two-week stand off, the landowners agreed to FSC's request for a seven-year lease provided the Corporation paid them $90,000 as a goodwill payment.

The landowners decided to block off the railway tracks after the corporation continued to use the land for three months without making any arrangement for a new lease, after the initial lease on the property expired in March.

FSC acting chief executive, Abdul Shamsher, who was involved in a series of meetings over the issue, could not be reached yesterday.

July 27, 2006

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