Threat to close Lata airport this week, gov’t warns any closure is illegal

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A group who claims to own the land where the Lata airport sits has threatened to close the airfield this week— but the government warns any closure will be illegal as it owns the land.

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Secretary to the landowners under the Melewi Noubembla Trust Board Association, Gordon Meaio, said they will issue a notice to the government particularly the Ministry of Aviation to close the airport this week.

“We are ready to close it by Wednesday this week,” he told SBMOnline.

He said the reopening of the airport would depend on how the government respond to their outstanding compensation claims.

Meaio indicates that their claims run into millions but a final figure will be provided by the valuer whom they have engaged to carry out the valuation of the airport.

He claims that they had not benefited from the airport as landowners and their claims would be based on the years they had not been paid.

He reiterates that the only way forward is the government settles their outstanding dues one key part of it is the environment impact on the landowners.

Furthermore, argues Meaio, they had taken the government to court but in 28 days they had not responded. “So we are moving forward to close the airport so that the government settles our claims,” he said.

But the Permanent Secretary of Aviation and Communication that is responsible for the airports, Moses Virivolomo rejected the claims.

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He confirms: “The airport is owned by the government and any closure will be illegal.”

Virivolomo said their records show that the land had been legally acquired from the landowners by the government.

“We see any closure as illegal and police is ready to act once that happens,” he said.

On the argument by the landowners that a former Attorney General had told them that there was an error in the acquisition of the land, Virivolomo said this is not correct.

The PS said from his understanding what the AG said then was if it was true that they own the land, there is a process which they must follow to proof they are the rightful owners.

He said on government part they still hold the records as to who the government acquired the land from and those that benefited.

Virivolomo told the landowners that they had no right to close the airport except for his ministry which is responsible for the operations of the airports around the country.

But Meaio reiterated to SBMOnline that they will still close the airport to see who is the rightful owner come Wednesday.

“We will only re-open if you fix our claims,” he tells the government.

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