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In exchange for Lau

Avinesh Gopal
Sunday, July 06, 2014

THE proposal that is expected to be made by Tonga to give Fiji the Minerva Reef in exchange for the Lau Group is a dream that will never come true, says a lawyer.

And if the proposal is made, then giving the Lau Group to Tonga in exchange for the reef, which is at the centre of a dispute between the two countries for years, is very difficult.

Naipote Vere, a lawyer of Lakeba in Lau, said Lauans he had met were swearing at the proposal that was expected to be made by Tonga's Lands Minister and a Noble, Lord Ma'afu to Fiji.

"I suspect that the proposal that is expected to be made by Tonga is the work of a chiefly clan in Lau who want someone to become the Tui Nayau," he said.

"There is no Tui Nayau right now and the only way that person can become the holder of the title is when Lau becomes a part of Tonga, as he was not here for some time.

"The common thinking in the Lau Group is that all land belongs to the Tui Nayau but in fact, nobody owns Lakeba or Lau for that matter," Mr Vere said.

"If Lau is given to Tonga in exchange for Minerva Reef, then the whole Constitution has to be changed. Lord Ma'afu should first find out from his legal advisers if the proposal is possible."

Lord Ma'afu, the Noble of Vaini in Tongatapu, told the Tonga Daily News he would make a proposal to Fiji's Foreign Affairs Minister that Tonga get the Lau Group in exchange for Minerva Reef.

He said the row between the two countries was not good for relations, saying they were closely related and their history dated back a long, long time.

The reef was claimed by Tonga in 1972 but Fiji lodged a complaint with the International Seabed Authority some time ago on Tonga's claim and the two countries have also made submissions to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Amena Yauvoli this week said the ministry would just have to wait for the Tongan Government's proposal.