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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Aug. 9) - A group of Ba landowners who blocked a railway line for three weeks were yesterday in high spirits after the Native Land Trust Board announced their grievances had been resolved.

Spokesman for the landowners, Samuela Kautoga said the group was informed by the NLTB about the agreement with the Fiji Sugar Corporation over the land in question.

Kautoga said the FSC had agreed to pay the landowners $10,000 [US$5,815] for each hectare of land being used.

He said the annual rental fees had been increased from $3.77 [US$2.19] per year to $650 [US$377.9] per year.

The landowners of Sorokoba Village had sealed off a railway track running through their land on July 11 after FSC refused to renew the lease, which had expired in March, on terms it had already agreed to.

The FSC asked NLTB to review the proposed lease term of 50 years to seven years.

The High Court in Lautoka was told yesterday that the FSC had agreed to the 50-year lease.

Mosese Naivalu, who represented the landowners, said they were happy with the negotiations between NLTB and FSC.

Naivalu confirmed that the parties had agreed to a 50-year lease.

He said the issue of a goodwill payment, believed to be in the range of $60,000 [US$34,890], was still being discussed. When the parties appeared before Justice John Connors at the High Court in Lautoka yesterday, NLTB lawyer Kitione Vuataki said the parties had reached an agreement, except for a few formalities that were left to be finalized.

Vuataki said negotiations had gone well with FSC especially since the landowners had shown goodwill by giving the board consent to carry out negotiations on their behalf.

Vuataki asked for time so all the details could be finalized before being presented to the court.

FSC lawyer, Faizal Hanif echoed the sentiments of Vuataki, saying both sides would have all the arrangements prepared by August 22.

Meanwhile, Shalend Krishna, who represented the Sugar Cane Growers Council, asked that a high court injunction granted on July 31 be upheld until the final agreement was presented in court.

Krishna said the Council had first sought the injunction so that the parties would begin negotiations.

He said it would be appropriate that the injunction remained until everything was finalized.

But Justice Connors said there was no point in the injunction remaining since the landowners had cleared the railway tracks.

However, he said even though the injunction was being lifted, it did not allow the landowners to carry out such unlawful acts.

Justice Connors said they were not allowed to take the law into their own hands, as there were legal proceedings to resolve the dispute.

August 10, 2006

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