Landowners Threaten To Close Lata Airport In Solomons

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Government given two weeks to address alleged rental issues

By Daniel Namosuaia

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Dec. 3, 2013) – The Melevi Noubu Original Tribe (MNOT) of Santa Cruz Island in Temotu province, Solomon Islands, has threatened to close Lata airport as of tomorrow.

The warning came following a fourteen days notice served to the government through the ministry of communication and aviation to address the landowners’ logs of claims.

The fourteen days notice will lapse on the fourth of this month which is on Wednesday.

And landowners said the airport will close for an indefinite period until the national government addresses their claims.

Chairman of MNOT trust board John Peter Metoula said the action was taken due to the government’s failure to address their previous logs of claim including rent over the use of Lata airport for the past 44 years.

"Other claims will be pending any response from the national government regarding the rental claim and the proposed consultation on an access agreement, premium and lease agreement," Mr Metoula said.

He said out of several dialogues, correspondences and other baseline information they had with the responsible ministries and the government, nothing has been done by the government up to this day.

"Only lies and false promises have been given to us by the government."

The chairman stressed that whilst they are willing to allow their land for services, it must also recognises and respect their fundamental rights and treat them justly and fairly.

Metoula said MNO tribe have agreed that if the government deals fairly with them, compensate them for the use of the airport and to establish a good dialogue with them over their lost land, they will allow the government to correct the wrong registration and hold perpetual estate (PE) to the true land title of Melevi land where the airport is located.

"Our frustrations have been building over the years despite numerous calls to both the provincial and national governments to address the issue.

"We are patient enough and this will be our last effort to give the national government the last chance to solve this issue," Metoula stressed.

He added that failure to address this issue by Wednesday will see the land taken back and the airport closed down for good since MNO tribe are the real landowners.

Mr Metoula said the land is not sold or compulsorily acquired since the people of whom the government dealt with at those time were wrong people who sold their right over Luova land in Luava village and elsewhere but not Melevi land.

"Melevi land is the land the airport is situated and thus we have the right over it. All these years we are only victims of the ignorance and negligence of the government since colonial era."

MNO tribe calls on the government to address this issue as a priority since they can’t prolong this issue any further.

Meanwhile the Temotu provincial premier Fr Brown Beu said this is a real concern for his government, their people and nation as a whole.

"I am very worried for two reasons. One is the machines for the upgrading work on the airport that will arrive on Wednesday.

"Secondly this will create a big problem for the travelling public and the whole nation since this airport is seen as the third international port of call apart from Munda and Henderson airports," Fr Beu said.

He said he had written to the Attorney General to assist them with the issue but is yet to receive a response.

Adding, that upgrading the airport is a priority for his government and he had been trying his best to ensure this matter is dealt with accordingly to make all parties happy.

Meanwhile the commissioner of lands who holds the title to the land said the land where the airport is built was paid outright by the colonial government and the title is held by the commissioner.

Mrs Nester Maelanga said records of this land transaction might have been kept in Fiji.

However she said if landowners want to take back this land, the only avenue could be through the court.

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