20 Mar 2007

Vanuatu Internal Affairs Minister accuses customary leaders of involvement in clashes

9:36 am on 20 March 2007

Vanuatu's Internal Affairs Minister has accused a number of Chiefs of direct involvement in the deadly clashes in Port Vila.

George Wells was speaking after the two-week state of emergency which was declared in the capital following the violence lapsed lSunday night.

The fighting at start of the month left three people dead in a conflict between Tanna and Ambrym islanders from the Blacksands squatter settlement.

Mr Wells has been critical of role of the Chiefs of these communities, who he says should have prevented the fight..

"But they failed on their negotiations and they can't control their peoples - that's why the fight began. So why we declared the state of emergency is because we need the police presence inside the area to intervene. Now the state of emergency's lapsed, lastnight, they should co-operate with the police to deal with issues... But the latest report I got this morning, there's about fourteen chiefs that are involved directly inside this riot taking place two weeks ago. That's the chiefs from Tanna."

Police have so far arrested at least 140 people in connection with the clashes and nine have been charged for various offences, including one man facing a murder charge.