Monday, May 24, 2010

Fijian resort owners held prisoner by military unit

by MICHAEL FIELD - 24 May 2010

South Pacific Fijian resort owners held prisoner by military unit. 

The Lagoon Resort at Pacific Harbour, west of Suva, has been taken over by a freelance military company called Homelink Security, made up of territorial soldiers and senior military officers.

Its owners for the past 11 years – Jim and Heather Sherlock, of Hamilton – say the men, who wear khaki trousers and bright orange shirts, have blocked the road to the resort and will not let people in or out easily.

They have also forced a neighbouring dive shop business to close in what appears to be a dispute over who should own the popular resort. "Sometimes we feel like a prisoner here, it is very stressful," Mr Sherlock said by phone yesterday. "It has killed the business stone dead."

He said they were trying to fight the occupation in the Suva courts but at no time were the couple able to leave the hotel together.

The resort was taken over on May 7, under the orders of the military government-controlled Fiji Development Bank (FDB), which installed the Homelink soldiers.

A Suva source said the Sherlocks were not seen for weeks until, in the past couple of days, Mrs Sherlock visited Suva "looking very gaunt and thin".

"A couple of people that I know of decided to go and visit them with some food but came across a very big sign on the road saying `No Entrance – Protected Area'."

The source said Homelink was a business unit of the Fiji Military Force.

Mr Sherlock was reluctant to discuss his situation in detail, other than to say the FDB had not foreclosed on their mortgage so they did not know the legal basis of the paramilitary occupation.

He confirmed his wife was in ill health as a result of what was going on. "We can never leave together, we have to fight this."

Lagoon Resort hosted the 16-nation Pacific Forum 10 years ago and then was booked out for six months by an American film company shooting Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid.

Mr Sherlock said the hotel had been going well recently and had been booked out for a convention, which had to be cancelled.

He is now trying to get an injunction against FDB in the Suva High Court tomorrow.

Homelink emerged only last year but has already secured key protection contracts, including for one of the country's major exporters, Fiji Water, and for Ports of Fiji.

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