Guests evacuate Fiji's Turtle Island as rebels demonstrate

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TURTLE ISLAND, Fiji -- Forty-five guests of the Turtle Island Resort here fled by boat to the main Fiji island of Viti Levu after 30 local villagers occupied the resort in a revived feud over land ownership.

As reported, the island was taken forcefully on July 11 by a group claiming to represent anti-government rebels.

The action plunged Fiji's tourism industry further into darkness following the government crisis that started May 19 when armed gunmen seized control of Fiji's parliament building in Suva and took the prime minister and other parliamentarians hostage.

A spokeswoman for the Turtle Island Resort said there were 25 adults and 20 children at the resort at the time of the takeover. Fifteen of the guests were from the U.S., with the remainder from Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.

It was not known if those who took over the resort were armed, and there were no reports of violence, the spokeswoman said.

A woman who answered the phone at the resort's gift shop said all the guests left on board the Mystique Princess cruise ship for the port of Lautoka on the main island of Viti Levu.

Lautoka is five or six hours by boat from Turtle Island. From Lautoka guests were scheduled to be bused to Nadi, the site of the main international airport.

Resort owner Richard Evanson stayed behind to negotiate land claims with the villagers.

"The land ownership issue has come up periodically," the spokeswoman said.

Since the taking of the government officials by George Speight, who wants more power for ethnic Fijians, the crisis has slowly spread from Suva to other parts of the country.

Groups of ethnic Fijians had sporadically attacked police stations and taken over factories, but stayed away from hotels until now.

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