Friday, October 29, 2010

Western villagers angry over alleged land-grab

VILLAGERS in Western are angry their government has allocated more than a million hectares of pristine forest for “special agricultural leases” – which they describe as a land-grab for logging, The National reports.

At a landowner meeting in Kiunga this week, hundreds of disgruntled villagers said their land had been given away without any informed consent or notification.

Western now has half of PNG’s allocated 4.3 million hectares of “special purpose agricultural and business leases”, after the government gazetted Tosigiba Timber group and North East Timber 1.25 million hectares on Sept 23.

Last year, the government allocated 853,420ha to companies in the province for special leases in areas such as the contentious Kamula Doso forest that had a court order preventing any forestry activity.

The build-up of “special leases” had enraged green groups, NGOs and numerous government officials to raise their concerns that PNG’s forests were under threat by oil palm or “logging by stealth”.

North Fly MP Boka Kondra, who addressed the landowners on Wednesday, said it was a grave concern.

“They are giving away the land but we do not know what the future is or the implications,” he said.

“It is a surprise to see this, I will talk to the ministers concerned to find a possible solution because a lot of people on their land will see this as taking it away.”

Western Province Land and Resource Owner Federation chairman, Paul Katut said landowners had been duped.

“It is unprecedented the government gives one million hectares,” he said.

“We have members of the companies here that all say they did not agree to the deal.”

The Lands Department grants the “special leases” to companies to develop, for example, oil palm plantations but, in the past, unscrupulous players had used the leases to bypass laws and cut down the forest, export the logs and then leave.

Greenpeace forest and climate campaigner Paul Winn said increasing special leases was another example of PNG’s disregard for its purported climate change policy and indigenous people’s rights.

“These leases will never result in agricultural benefits to PNG. They are just a way of sidestepping the logging laws,” he said.

Agriculture Minister John Hickey and the Lands Department could not be contacted for comments. – AAP

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