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Unauthorized 75-year lease of customary land may not be legal

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Dec. 21, 2011) – There is concern in Vanuatu over the sale of customary land and its effects on landowners.

Prime real estate on Reef Island in Torba Province has been sold to an investor for a lease period of 75 years without the knowledge of customary landowners.

Two of the landowners have now travelled to Port Vila to seek legal advice.

Likewise, prime land on Turtle Island has also been sold to an investor interested in tourism development for about 400,000 U.S. dollars.

Our correspondent Len Garae says the constitution is vague about rules governing customary land sales.

"Potential investors [and] people with money come into the country and talk of interest to buy land. And when they are over a few millions, that they mention that they are prepared to deposit or pay to the landowners, and money doesn’t come easy, so these people are suckers to temptation and accept the money and sell. And many times investors buy land at much less than the value of the market."

[PIR editor’s note: Willie David and Esrom Istapas of Reef Island are working to convince the new investor not to develop the island until the legality of the sale is confirmed. The two men also hope to protect their home, which is one of the richest fishing areas in the Northern Province of Vanuatu. Seventh Day Adventist church leaders from the other island in question, Turtle Island, are also disappointed at the "quiet sale" of the church's former location, which was sold to an investor for nearly US$400,000. The island was initially handed over to the government in 1983 for conservation purposes, but appears to have been used for other purposes.]

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