7 Apr 2004

Fiji land dispute may deter visitors

3:55 pm on 7 April 2004

A school principal in Fiji is concerned that claims by indigenous landowners to prime freehold land at Pacific Harbour may stop people going there.

Pacific Harbour is 50 west of Suva, and has international school, golf course, cultural centre, upmaket hotels and residences.

Radio Legend reported the land claim from the Serua province was for about 15-thousand hectares of the prime real estate that was originally swamp land.

The principal at an international school in Pacific Harbour, Janet Arone, says the area attracts many visitors.

"Pacific Harbour was primarily developed as a tourist area. Before they developed Pacific Harbour there wasn't really very much here at all, just a beautiful stretch of beach and a few isolated villages. Let's face it, visitors don't like to come and stay in a place where there's any dissension or tension. And up to now we haven't had any."

Janet Arone, Principal of Pacific Harbour's International school.

A spokesman for the Fiji's Ministry of Lands says the government may end up having to pay compensation for an indigenous landowner claim.

Landowners say the land was sold for a pittance by a local chief in 1866 before the British took over Fiji.

The Research Officer at the Ministry, Mohammed Jaffa, confirmed a claim has been submitted.

He says should the matter go to court and the Lands Tribunal rule in favour of the indigenous landowner, it wouldn't necessarily mean the land would have to be returned.

Mr Jaffa says it could just mean the government will have to pay compensation for the use of the land.