Villagers block road in Samoa

By Cassandra Mason, John Weekes

Armed police outside the airport at Faleolo. Photo / Supplied
Armed police outside the airport at Faleolo. Photo / Supplied

Passengers arriving in Samoa on an Air New Zealand flight were caught up in an armed stand-off between police and machete-wielding villagers this week.

Around 100 police clashed with residents from Satapuala village who had barricaded the road near Faleolo International Airport.

The Samoa Observer reported that police tried to remove boulders from the road as others fired warning shots into the air to scare off residents.

"Visitors to Samoa were greeted by the alarming sight of armed police officers and rowdy men wearing masks and balaclavas," the paper reported.

Some villagers armed themselves with machetes, rocks and bottles of kerosene.

The threat of violence delayed flights and affected thousands of motorists who were stopped as police tried to clear the roadblock.

An Air New Zealand spokesman said the altercation happened on Thursday afternoon New Zealand time.

"Passengers arriving from Auckland around this time were encouraged to remain at the airport for a short time until it was established police had dealt with the situation and traffic was flowing freely once more."

The aircraft returned to Auckland with only a slight delay. Flights to and from Apia yesterday were not affected by this incident and tonight's flights are scheduled to operate as normal.

Violence flared over a long-running land dispute between the Satapuala village and the Samoan Government.

A village matai or chief, Vaili Mimita, told the Samoa Observer that the village had gathered around the roadblock area when the police arrived.

"They came and they fired gunshots into the air as a warning. When we moved up close to them, they warned our village with more gunshots."

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi angered villagers by saying "this sort of stupidity is indicative of the uneducated leadership of Satapuala".

In a radio broadcast, he added: "Government will not sit by idle while thugs run amok on the streets.

"Who do they think they are blocking public roads and holding up motorists and tourists?"

- Herald on Sunday

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