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Island once housed prisoner George Speight

SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, March 31, 2008) – The traditional owners of Nukulau Island want it back so that their future generations may benefit from development projects formulated and given to the Government.

Responding to plans by the Suva City Council to develop the island, retired teacher Pita Tagicakiverata said his mataqali, Naocodogo of Vutia in Rewa, were the original owners of the island and he had proof.

"When the indentured labourers were quarantined, the Crown paid a lease of 25 pounds to my forefathers proving that they were the landowners," Mr Tagicakiverata said. "The then Colonial official, a Mr Bobs, wrote to the Colonial secretary in 1906 telling him that this was too much and it would be better to buy the island. However, how the land ended up as Crown property is a mystery."

[PIR editor’s note: Nukulau Island is located off the east coast of Viti Levu. A prison was opened on the island in 2000 to house George Speight and other perpetrators of the 2000 coup that deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's government. On 18 December 2006, Fiji's military ruler, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, announced his decision to close the prison and convert the island into a public park.]

Mr Tagicakiverata, the deputy chairman of the Rewa Provincial Council, said they had been trying to get the island back since 1991.

"We are prepared to challenge the status of the land in court," he said.

He believes their case will be given a fair audience and they had given their business proposal and development plans to the Fijian Affairs Board and Ministry of Lands for their perusal.

He said the article in The Fiji Times yesterday did not highlight their plight nor the fact that they wanted the island back.

"We have about 400 people in our tribe and our sub clan (tokatoka) has about 200 members. If we allow someone to lease the island, we will have to wait another 99 years before we can use it for our own purposes."

Mr Tagicakiverata said they were awaiting a response from Cabinet on the development aspects of the project and ownership of the place.

He said when the military took over the island as a prison for George Speight and people involved in the 2000 coup, people of Vutia were not allowed to fish in their fishing grounds.

"We are returning to the fishing grounds and using the resources available in the area. The plans involve the yavusa and not only our mataqali."

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