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Methodist Church Divided Over Support For Regime

Issue No: 84; 5 October 2000

The Methodist Church of Fiji is divided over its support for the interim regime.

This year's annual conference, held in Viseisei village in Vuda, heard the interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase inform it of the regime's Blueprint for the Advancement of Fijians and its plans for a new election.

The Methodist Church's President, Tomasi Kanailagi told the TV news earlier that the Church supported the interim regime. This statement came
before the matter was discussed by the Church.

The ethnic Indian division of the Church has distanced itself from the support which the Church has given to the interim regime. Today's Fiji Times reports the Divisional Superintendent, Anil Ruben telling Qarase:

"God has opened the door for us to evangelise and take salvation to the Indian people. Sir, you are a hero to our nation because we all have felt that God has chosen you to lead this nation during trying times."

Most other members of the Division questioned Ruben's claim that the ethnic Indian Division supported Qarase, and claimed that Ruben's statements were his personal views and not reflective of the congregations views.

The Methodist Church is the largest Christian denomination in Fiji, but its membership has been steadily declining since the 1987 military coups.

Issue No: 83; 5 October 2000

Regime incapable of handling land

The developments over the past weeks show that the interim regime is incapable of handling matters related to land leases.

Today the Fiji Times reported that the Native Land Trust Board is blocking the development of a $700m hotel project at Vulani Island off Nadi coast. The project is on state land for which the SVT government had given a lease to the developers. The NLTB is claiming that the land is owned by indigenous Fijian landowners.

In another development, the landowners in Tailevu have tried to close a government owned secondary school. The prestigious Ratu Kadavulevu School, which caters for the indigenous Fijian students, is on land for which the landowners are claiming compensation. A meeting scheduled for yesterday (4 October) to discuss compensation payments between the landowners and the NLTB failed to take place because the NLTB General Manager Maika Qarikau failed to turn up. Qarikau was a key supporter of terrorist George Speight. The school is still closed 4 days after the new term began.

Meanwhile, interim Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase told the Methodist Church annual conference yesterday that all native owned land will be taken out of the Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act (ALTA) and placed under the Native Land Trust Act. ALTA, brought in by then Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara in1977, protected the tenants and the landowners interests, while NLTA has no such protection. 83% of all land in Fiji is owned by indigenous Fijians.

Hundreds of largely ethnic Indian tenant farmers have been evicted from their farms because of non-renewal of land leases and a lack of a state plan to resettle the evictees. Many evictees are finding their way to refugee camps.

END

5 October 2000.


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