FAMILIES EVICTED FROM VANUATU CUSTOMARY LAND

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Houses burned as police move 50 people out

By Royson Willie PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Jan. 1, 2009) - What a way to celebrate Christmas...Evicted families from Erangorango near Agriculture station, have no where else to settle.

Over 50 family members of the Berry family from Tongoa living at Erangorango just behind the Bauerfield Airport have received the wrath of the law at full force in the middle of the festive season of Christmas and New Year.

On Tuesday 29 December the police acted on an execution warrant to evict the Berry family, which include men, women, children and their live animals, from their home.

All houses and plants planted by members of the Berry family were destroyed either with a sledge hammer, a chainsaw or bush knife.

Thatched house made out of natangura were pushed over and burned to the ground.

The order, to evict the people living in the 10 houses that were destroyed, was taken by the customary owner of the area, George Soalo.

The legal feud between the Soalo family and the Berry family is not new as the father of George Soalo, who is now deceased, had tried about three years ago to remove this community of over 50 people without success.

Since the death of his father, George Soalo, has taken over the property of his father.

This exercise was carried out under the command of Acting Officer in Command of Police Station, Inspector Jackson Noal.

In the event of the execution of the order, the movable properties of the family that include live animals were transported by lorry and offloaded at the airport round-a-bout under the kauri trees.

The offload location was reportedly chosen after members of the family said they did not have any family in Port Vila who could accommodate their properties.

A spokesperson for the family Mr Jack Berry, confirmed that a notice of the pending eviction action dated December 13 but the document was served to them on December 24.

"This is the second time that such an action has been taken against us on December just before Christmas and when the court is in recess, which means we cannot run to the court now to stop what they are doing.

"The notice was given to us on the week of celebration so we did not have enough time to remove out belongings.

"We have been living on the property based a Court of Appeal decision that ordered the landowner to compensate us before we leave but the payment has not been done so far.

"During the process of that court process that led to the Appeal Court, we have spent over Vt500, 000 in legal fees and now that this has taken place, I don’t know how we can seek redress through the court as we do not have any more money to go to court.

"Since then we have been living out of our gardens but now we have been removed from them while all have been destroyed as well as homes that include a house made out of blocks."

Asked if the compensation they were waiting for has not been paid yet, Berry said they have not received the payment.

MP for Port Vila David Abel was present at the airport round-a-about when the police dropped off the property of the Tongoa family.

The Berry family has reportedly sought the assistance of the Public Solicitor’s Office.

But the commanding officer during the police operation said the execution warrant was carried out according to orders of the court.

He said the family members were initially given a time of 30 days to remove their property on the land but they did not show any sign of moving.

He said the eviction order, is one of many that are before the police since the beginning of this year but following the changes at the police station since the appointment of a new Commissioner, it was finally executed.

Inspector Noal said he has with him documents that show that the amount of over Vt100, 000 paid through the form of cheque was made to Noel Berry.

"The cheque was taken to his wife who signed for it then it was later returned after the husband refused to accept the cheque.

"Because they refused, the payment was made to their lawyer.

"Since then they have not acted to vacate the area," Noal said.

He said if those who have been evicted want to challenge the order and the action taken by the police the court is the place to resolve the issue, not threats to members of the force.

The lawyer representing George Soalo, Jack Kilu, said his client had instructed him to get a court order and this was obtained at the beginning of the year and the Magistrate Court allowed this and 30 days were given to the Berry family to vacate the property.

Since then there was no sign of vacation by the family so they had to obtain an execution warrant.

Kilu confirmed that a cheque payment of over Vt100, 000 has been made from lawyer to lawyer after Berry senior refused to accept the cheque.

He clarified that initially the Supreme Court made a default judgment against the late Alick Soalo of an amount of Vt60 million to be paid as compensation to the Berry family based on a calculation of garden property that was calculated by only one party.At that time Soalo used the service of another law firm.

But when Soalo approached him for the appeal, Kilu asked the court for another calculation to take place but this time by both parties.

This was when the final amount of over Vt100, 000 was reached and so the Court of Appeal based its decision on that amount, Kilu said.

Meanwhile, Daily Post understands that a meeting between the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Arthur Caulton along with Inspector Noal and the Berry family took place yesterday to find an amicable solution to the issue at hand.

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