KNIFE-WIELDING SAMOANS CONFRONT POLICE

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APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Nov. 15) - Tension over the Satapuala land occupation reached near boiling point yesterday with a clash between villagers and Police narrowly avoided.

Police officers at the Samoa Trust Estates Corporation (STEC) land were confronted by villagers approaching them with sharpened machetes.

Senior Satapuala orator, Vaili Mimita, said it was fortunate he and other senior ‘matai’ (chiefs) were informed on time.

"It was just as well we (matai) arrived quickly," Vaili told the Samoa Observer.

A Police officer at the scene said they were heavily outnumbered by the villagers.

With women and children accompanying the young men, it appeared the whole village was marching over to confront the police.

"We met with Police leaders on the scene and agreed for the officers to withdraw to the Police Station at Faleolo so we could hold negotiations," Vaili said.

Meanwhile, Satapuala villagers continued to work on the land, which they were ordered to vacate last week.

At the Faleolo Police Station, the meeting between Satapuala matai and senior Police officers lasted about an hour yesterday.

The meeting started shortly after 9 a.m. with a prayer service. After, Vaili told the Samoa Observer "our village will not turn back.

"The situation is, the village is not going to retreat," he said.

"We will continue to work the land and people living there will remain."

In the morning, the Police asked for Toalepaiali’i Toeolesulusulu Siueva and the village to vacate the land.

But they refused.

Vaili asked the leader of the Police officers there to call in his men.

"I didn’t want to hear some boy shooting a police officer over there," he said.

"Satapuala’s sole view is for the land to be given back. That’s all. There’s nothing else to talk about.

"Whatever the view of the Prime Minister and the Government, give us the land, then it would be peaceful and there will be a good ending."

Vaili said their request for the land has been with Government for 40 years.

Asked why in those 40 years they have not taken legal action, he said: "Remember the situation is, it’s been 40 years since the request has been submitted to Government - no reply."

Then on 3 October at a meeting of the village council, it surfaced that the land had been subdivided, and leased out.

They made the decision to move onto the land the Monday, after White Sunday, four weeks ago.

"Satapuala has no other opportunity to take action except to interfere at this time with the Government’s actions," Vaili said.

"There is no other time for it in the future. If the licenses are implemented, it means Satapuala will have no opportunity. It’s finished. People are about to implement Government’s plans and there has been no reply (to the submission for land). It means this is the only reply for Satapuala: stop these things. As I said, this is the only opportunity."

"Any other time further ahead, Satapuala will get nothing. Cabinet has approved the leasing of Samoa Trust Estates Corporation land directly inland of Satapuala and other villages in the area, CEO of STEC, Fonoiava Seali’itu Sesega said.

Satapuala knows nothing of that - nor of the fact that land which they now occupy had been advertised by STEC, as being up for lease for business people to set up shop in, Vaili said.

"Remember they keep saying they will give us land, give us land. But these things have been raised but no land. If they had said ‘Satapuala this is your land,’ what else will there be, beyond that? It would have been accepted. There has been nothing."

Vaili said they did not know land which they have now occupied had been advertised for lease. No one from their village has applied for a lease, he said. Road frontage land running along the inland side of Main West Coast Road - starting across the road of Faleolo International Airport - stretching westwards to Mulifanua Wharf, has been advertised for lease for business purposes by STEC.

Further leases inland of the road frontage pieces will be advertised once amenities are in place. But it is exactly the road frontage land that they asked Government for, Vaili said.

At the meeting yesterday, senior Police officers who spoke on behalf of the Ministry mentioned to Satapuala matai their duty to protect the lives of citizens of Samoa.

One mentioned there were officers with links to Satapuala saying "A person has more roots than a plant." They spoke about the good name of the country boosted by the hosting of the recent South Pacific Games.

In their speeches, Satapuala matai referred to the longstanding service their village has performed for the country through the provision of the land for the airport.

One said they were worried ill-disciplined and ignorant youngsters in their village might harm Police officers. Another said they have been accused of breaking the law.

"But what about Government’s illegalities?"

Yesterday morning, men of Satapuala were guarding nearly all the faleo’o [small hut] they have built on the land, they’ve occupied.

All were armed with machetes.

Men at one faleo’o site were building a bigger house and were hammering in iron roofing.

Vaili said Satapuala also has the support of "others who live inland" of Faleatiu and Satapuala.

The Minister of Police, Toleafoa Apulu Fa’afisi, said yesterday that he was not in a position to comment. Toleafoa, who was in Parliament all morning, said he would be able to say something to the media today, after a briefing by Police. He described the situation at Satapuala as "delicate."

Police Commissioner, Papali’i Lorenese Neru could not be contacted at press time.

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