FIJI LANDOWNERS BLOCK ROAD AFTER TELECOM SNUB

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, June 28) - A Fiji landowning unit yesterday closed off the road leading to Telecom Fiji's main station in Vanua Levu as they demanded to know who endorsed the renewal of the land's lease in 2000.

[PIR editor’s note: Vanua Levu, second largest in the Fiji group, lies to the northeast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island.]

Members of mataqali Naudrau from Suweni village, Cakaudrove, who built a camp by the roadside at Delaikoro, have refused to remove the roadblock until all their grievances are met.

[PIR editor’s note: A "mataqali" is a traditional Fijian landowning unit.]

A group of Telecom workers were turned away from the roadblock while making their way to the station at the top of the mountain. Mataqali [primary local division of Fijian society] spokesman Akei Kamo said the renewal of the Telecom lease in January 2000 was arranged without their consent.

"We have been approaching the company and the Native Lands Trust Board to ask them about the renewal of the lease or who gave the two parties the okay to do so, but they have chosen to ignore our visits," he said. "So we will not sit around and wait for them to open their doors because this is our land and we will not be bullied by some companies who earn millions of dollars and think they can carry their weight around as they enjoy."

Kamo said the landowners would not meet with NTLB and Telecom officials but only with the executives from headquarters. "This is not the first time we are putting a roadblock on this road. Every time we did in the past, officials in the north come up, we discuss certain issues and the matter is resolved," he said. But whatever we have discussed in the past has not been addressed and that is why we want to meet with the executives of the two companies now. They should not waste their time in sending up a junior team because we will not negotiate."

Kamo said although they had written to the NLTB not to renew any lease from January 1, 2000, this was not followed. "Who has the authority to renew the lease the NLTB or the landowners?" he questioned. He said the landowners also wanted an increase to the monthly rental paid by Telecom.

NLTB and Telecom did not respond to questions sent to them. Telecom spokeswoman Salote Uluinaceva, in an earlier query in March, said that on January 1, 2000, the company's lease on Delaikoro was renewed for another 99 years and lease payments had been made until June 30 this year.

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