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'Give up Lau'

Avinesh Gopal
Thursday, July 03, 2014

TONGA'S Lands Minister Lord Ma'afu has revealed a proposal for the island kingdom to give up the disputed Minerva Reef to Fiji in exchange for the Lau Group.

The Minerva Reef has been at the centre of a dispute on ownership between the two countries.

Lord Ma'afu wants to make a proposal to Fiji that Tonga gets the Lau Group in exchange for Minerva Reef.

The Noble of Vaini on Tongatapu revealed this in an interview with Tonga Daily News' manager/editor Iliesa Tora last week, saying the row between the two countries over the ownership of Minerva Reef was not good for relations.

The reef, which is home to lucrative undersea minerals, was claimed by Tonga in 1972 and was declared by King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV as a Tongan island.

But in 2005, Fiji lodged a complaint with the International Seabed Authority concerning Tonga's claim over the reef.

"It is not good for our relations. We are closely related and our history dates back a long, long time," Lord Ma'afu said.

"So in good faith I will propose to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Fiji that they can have Minerva Reef and we get Lau in return.

"We have a lot of our own people with Lauan ancestry and a lot of Lauans with Tongan ancestry," said Lord Ma'afu, who is named after Ma'afu, the Tongan prince who played a key role in the early part of Fiji's history.

No comment could be obtained last night from Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, who is in Korea.

However, Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Amena Yauvoli said last night the ministry would just have to wait for the Tongan Government's proposal.

The reef is actually a group of two submerged atolls named after the whaling ship Minerva that wrecked there in 1829.

The North and South Minerva reefs are used as anchorages by yachts travelling between New Zealand and Tonga or Fiji and is reportedly an excellent place for scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing.

North Minerva offers the more protected anchorage while South Minerva is shaped similar to an infinity symbol, with its eastern lobe partially open to the ocean on the northern side.

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