Samoan MP facing sedition charges after land dispute roadblock | Pacific Beat

Samoan MP facing sedition charges after land dispute roadblock

Samoan MP facing sedition charges after land dispute roadblock

Updated 22 August 2012, 11:02 AEST

Samoa's image as a tourism haven has been damaged by an incident where tourists have been stopped by armed men at a road block.

The incident happened outside the village of Satapuala and was sparked by a land dispute.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has denounced the actions of Satapaula residents as "sedition" and the government has sacked the village mayor or pulenu'u.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts

Speaker:Keni Lesa, journalist, Samoa Observer



LESA: Well the road block was set up by the people of Satapuala last Wednesday evening. It was part of an ongoing land dispute between them and the government. What they basically want, they wanted the government to return all the land that New Zealand took from them during the colonial era.
COUTTS: Why has it come up now if the land was taken so long ago?
LESA: Well, before our independence celebrations, Satapuala brought back the issue and what they wanted New Zealand's attention to it, because the land was taken during the New Zealand era, when New Zealand was administering Samoa. And so before the independence, they started bringing back up, but for the last couple of months, they've been going back and forth with the government, but the government has been strong saying that look, you have got no land, the transactions were legal and the matter has been before court and the court has ruled against the village.
COUTTS: Alright, now they were stopped by armed men. What were they armed with?
LESA: Well, that's report that unconfirmed. I haven't seen anything that suggested that the men stopped tourists with whatever they were armed with, but I can tell you if they were armed, they had rocks and probably machetes.
COUTTS: And how many tourists were turned away? Have you actually managed to speak to any of the tourists?
LESA: No, there was no tourist that was turned away. What has happened is because if you know Samoa, this is the road that connects the airport to town. What these guys, if they did stop them, what they would have asked them, because the reports we've got so far is that they were basically looking for the Prime Minister.
COUTTS: On his way back from the airport?
LESA: That's correct.
COUTTS: And did they find the Prime Minister?
LESA: No, of course not. The Prime Minister took a different route that morning.
COUTTS: And, because he was tipped off?
LESA: I would suspect so.
COUTTS: What's the next step for the landowners then. It sounds like on one side from the Prime Minister and the government's side it's cut and dry, bad luck, the lands gone legitimately and so that's it. Is it a done deal?
LESA: Well, I mean it would seem so at this stage, despite the fact that the village continues to say that, they will continue the fight. I mean from my perspective, I really don't know what they're going to do next. And the government is correct. Look, this case has been before court and the Supreme Court has ruled against the village, so I really don't know what the village is going to do next. But from the government's perspective, yesterday in parliament our Prime Minister said that the village as a matter of fact got more land than what they gave to build the airport.
COUTTS: And so that's why the land was seized for the airport?
LESA: That's correct. The land was taken for the airport and the wharf and a lot of developments out that side.
COUTTS: And when the land was handed over, were the landowners adequately compensated at the time?
LESA: Well, that's what Satapuala is saying, but according to Tuilaepa told parliament yesterday, the village gave about 800 acres for the development of the airport. In return, the New Zealand administration at the time gave them about 1,047 acres, so they in fact got more land back than what they gave.
COUTTS: And no one was hurt in the incident?
LESA: Hmm, there were a couple of police officers who got rocked on the head.
COUTTS: Alright. And are charges going to be laid?
LESA: Well yes, of course, the charges will follow. And one interesting development yesterday, is that the Member of Parliament for the constituency has now been referred to the Attorney-General for an investigation and he could face possible criminal charges and there's a possibility that he could be charged with treason and sedition.
COUTTS: Well, I was going to ask you about that, Tuilaepa has called the incident seditious. That's a bit strong, isn't it?
LESA: Yeah, it's very, very strong. I mean it's difficult and it's hard to imagine a member of parliament telling your people to go and do that kind of thing. 
Now the member of parliament, of course, has come forward and said god knows the truth and I haven't done anything wrong.
COUTTS: Are they calling it seditious because the road block was set up to capture the Prime Minister?
LESA: I would suggest so and if you listen to the Prime Minister's speech yesterday, he even said that it wasn't just him. They even stopped Speaker of the House and the Chief Justice.
COUTTS: Alright, so do we know when the charges might be laid and how many people have charges laid against them?
LESA: We're not sure at this stage. All I know is that the police are investigating what had happened at the village that day, but the conduct of the Member of Parliament is being referred to the Attorney-General.

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