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Vanuatu Land Summit Hears Calls For Curbs On Foreign Ownership

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

29 September 2006

Vanuatu's first land summit since independence a quarter of a century ago got underway this week, with the government urged to change the existing land laws to favour the indigenous peoples of Vanuatu.

The conference, entitled "Sustainable Land Management and Fair Dealings to Ensure Progress with Equity and Stability", which commenced on September 25, was convened to discuss how land laws can allow development to take place on the islands while respecting Vanuatu's customary land tenure system, based on communal ownership.

By allowing foreign investors to take up long term leases on pieces of land, tribal leaders argue that government land policy has breached the spirit of the country's constitution which seeks to protect the indigenous land tenure system.

According to Ralph Regenvanu of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, two thirds of coastal land on the main island of Efate is now controlled by foreigners through long term leases, while land on the island of Santo, where the country's second-largest urban zone is located, is also going the way of foreign ownership.

"There is a view that this is going on and we need to intervene before it goes too far," he argued.

The staging of this Land Summit was one of the recommendations of the National Summit on Self Reliance and Sustainability, organised by the Malvatumauri (National Council of Chiefs), the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and the Vanuatu Credit Union League - as part of the Traditional Money Banks Project - in July 2005.

The Malvatumauri - in conjunction with the Cultural Centre, the Credit Union League and a number of NGOs collectively grouped under the name 'Advocacy Coalition on Economics' (ACE) - has submitted a list of 40 recommendations to the Land Summit.

The week-long summit concludes today and is expected to eventually lead to new proposals on land ownership law from the government.

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