A New Zealander living in Vanuatu has appeared in court there today facing charges for murdering a local man in what police describe as a vicious, drunken fight over a girl.
Vanuatu police allege Ned Lowe, 18, beat Roger Kamisak with a piece of wood, stabbed him and ran him over with a car. His body was later found in the teen's burned-out car.
The death has sparked widespread disorder on Tanna Island, with the victim's friends and relatives allegedly behind two arsons that have destroyed the Lowe family's resort, sending the family into temporary police protection.
Ned Lowe is the son of Hugh and Stellah Lowe, who own and run Tanna Lodge.
The teenager has been charged with intentional homicide and has twice appeared in court, but has not entered a plea.
Vanuatu police Chief Inspector George Twomey told the Herald the teen appeared in court this morning where his case was deferred to the Supreme Court.
He will appear to make his plea on October 6.
He is being detained at the Port Vila Correctional Facility until then.
Blood samples from the scene were being processed in Australia and delayed proceedings.
Mr Twomey said Mr Kamisak and Ned Lowe were drinking together on a beach with a young woman, understood to be Lowe's girlfriend, on July 17 when a fight broke out.
"The background of the whole thing was they were fighting over a girl. The girl was present at the time.
"The wounds were believed to have come from the wood and there was also knife wounds." The victim was also run over with a car, he said. "It was very, very vicious. It happened when they were drunk."
Mr Twomey said Mr Kamisak's family reported him missing, and his body was found in the accused's car, which had been set on fire, on July 18. Police believe the next day his family and friends burned down six of the units at Tanna Lodge.
On August 14, locals allegedly set fire to the remaining buildings, causing about $2 million damage and causing guests to flee.
During that incident, 21 Australians were evacuated to Port Vila and the police and army were called in.
Mr Twomey said the Lowe family had to be taken from the resort to the police station for protection.
He said 22 suspects were arrested and have been detained in the correctional centres on Tanna Island and in Port Vila.
"There was a lot of tension on the island. If something like this happens of a significant nature they want to deal with things in their own way," he said. "It's hard to believe something like this happened on Tanna Island. People have a lot of respect for the expats, especially with what they are doing for business."
They are yet to have dates set for their court appearances, he said.
When contacted by the Herald, Hugh Lowe said he would consider commenting, but has not responded to further communications.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not comment on the case. "The New Zealand High Commission in Port Vila offered consular assistance to the lodge owner, a New Zealand citizen. The Ministry cannot comment further."
Chief of Pacific Islands Police, Inspector Waata Shepherd, who is based in Wellington, said he was unaware of the arrest.
According to Tanna Lodge's Facebook page, the Lowes bought Tanna Lodge in 2004 and spent five years restoring it.
Following the arsons, a meeting was held between police and chiefs of local tribes to try to restore order to the island.