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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 March 2005, 11:58 GMT
Tribe contests Gibson island sale
Mel Gibson
Gibson reportedly bought the island for 7.8m
Villagers in a remote part of Fiji are planning a legal challenge against the Hollywood star Mel Gibson over the sale of a South Pacific island.

Gibson is believed to have purchased the 5,411-acre Mago island in Fiji's Northern Lau group for 7.8 million.

But the Yavusa Vuaniivi tribe on the neighbouring island of Namalata have told the Fiji Times they are Mago's rightful owners.

The director visited Mago - pronounced Mungo - with his family in December.

The 49-year-old thought to have bought the island from a Japanese hotel chain, the Tokyu Corporation, through the property agent Colliers International.

But the Yavusa Vuaniivi claim the sale has no validity because their ancestors were violently evicted from Mago in the 19th Century.

Map of Mago
"Our island was sold for 2,000 coconut plants," Timoci Waqalevu, chairman of the Namalata Development Committee, told the Fiji Times.

"Stories told by our forefathers are that they were forced to leave at gunpoint.

"There is still evidence of those who refused to leave and were killed. There is a dugout hole where their skeletons still remain."

The original Magoans were assured that the island was being leased to a cotton planter and not sold outright.

"But no one was educated then or bothered to check the records," said Mr Waqalevu.

Dispossessed islanders

The island is currently home to 35 sugar plantation workers and their families.

The descendants of Mago's original inhabitants hope to hire a lawyer to fight Gibson for ownership.

They also hope the Fijian government will assist them as part of their ongoing scheme to help dispossessed islanders buy back ancestral lands.

So far, however, the authorities have refused to get involved.

"The government cannot do anything because it is a freehold property," said Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

"The sale was between the owner who has found a willing buyer."


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