Samoa Police Out In Force At Disputed Satapuala Village

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PM denounces village ‘revolution,’ despite ‘amicable’ settlement

By Apulu Lance Polu

APIA, Samoa (Talamua, Aug. 16, 2012) – About sixty police officers are now camped at the site for a district hospital at Satapuala following this afternoon’s standoff that injured a police officer on the head and matters were headed for force against force between Police and the villagers.

There flames, gunshots, stones throwing, a road block and a tense situation as Police advanced to secure the state owned land at Satapuala village earmarked for a District Hospital. Armed villagers tried to block the process as part of its claim to land taken during the colonial administration in the early 19th Century.

Since early morning, a roadblock had affected busy traffic to the airport, the wharf to Savaii island and commuters from the western end of the main island.

There were reports of tourists on an early flight from New Zealand being stopped by villagers at the road block. The Prime Minister himself was on that flight, back from New Zealand where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree conferred to him by the Victoria University in Wellington.

By midday, Police were sent to clear the roadblock and restore order. They were armed.

By late afternoon, Police were stationed at their outpost opposite the Faleolo International Airport and proceeded to secure access for the surveyors and heavy machinery to clear the ten acres for the District Hospital.

There were gunshots heard in a distance, aimed at scaring the workers and Police away. In the end, village matais were told by the Commissioner of Police, they were there to do and carry out their work. The matais conceded.

One of the leaders, Muagututia Leao Akeripa told the media, there seemed to have been a misunderstanding with the Police, hence the issues that arose earlier. At the roadblock, a Police officer was injured on the head allegedly from a thrown – object most likely a stone.

Muagututia was referring to their understanding that negotiations continue before the land was surveyed for the hospital. However, the village had asked the Police to give them this week before the work should start. It turned out that Police were made to be asking favors of the village when technically the land belongs to the Government.

"We have settled matters with the Police," said Muagututia, "in an amicable Samoan traditional way."

However, he stated that the understanding is for ten acres only for the hospital but to leave all the other land under their claim.

Tough words from the Prime Minister

But Prime Minister Tuilaepa Fataialofa Sailele Malielegaoi was uncompromising. He called the action by the village as a rebellion against the government and that those involved must be rounded up and charged for breaking the law.

He said the land claims by the village had been through the courts many times before and the village has always lost.

He said that the Government will not sit idle as such "disorder takes place." He also blamed the village MP for taking part in the rebellion against the government.

He sent out a strong message for Satapuala village and all other villages who may be thinking of taking over state owned land in a disorderly manner that they will be dealt with by the law.

Satapuala orator Vaili Mimita said they were surprised when the police and surveyors landed when it was their understanding that negotiations were continuing before any work commenced.

"We are sad that we were counting on cordial relationship between the village and the government and suddenly the surveyors were here to survey the land."

The Prime Minister insists the land is owned by Government through the Samoa Trust Estates Corporation, which held the land in trust from the New Zealand administration, on Samoa’s Independence in 1962. He insists the hospital project will benefit the district more than anybody else.

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