Cheering crowd greets return of deported publisher

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Posted on Jan 23 2001

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (PINA Nius Online) — Vanuatu Trading Post newspaper publisher Marc Neil-Jones returned to Port Vila late last night to a welcome similar to that given sports heroes.

Despite the late hour, more than 200 supporters of Mr. Neil-Jones and the media were at Bauerfield International Airport awaiting the flight bringing Mr. Neil-Jones back from Brisbane, Australia.

They cheered, clapped and welcomed back the man deported by the Vanuatu government last Friday.

His return followed an order by the Vanuatu Supreme Court.

Acting Chief Justice Vincent Lunabeck issued an interim order that Mr. Neil-Jones must be allowed to return unhindered by the government to reside and continue with his business in Vanuatu.

This will allow Mr. Neil-Jones to challenge the deportation order in court on February 9.

Mr. Neil-Jones said he had no problems entering the country and he was very grateful for the local, regional, and international support he and the Vanuatu Trading Post are getting.

Prime Minister Barak Tame Sope — who was overseas during the deportation action — is expected to make a statement later today.

Two truckloads of police arrived at Mr. Neil-Jones’ Port Vila home at 5:30 a.m. on Friday. The police took him to the airport, and put him on a flight leaving for Brisbane. They would not allow him to pack clothes or even take his medication for diabetes, he said.

Vanuatu Trading Post lawyer John Malcolm immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Sope’s government has been embarrassed by a series of investigative reports by Mr. Neil-Jones recently, revealing details about overseas businessmen with whom it is involved.

Mr. Neil-Jones, who is originally from Britain, arrived in Port Vila 11 years ago from Papua New Guinea, where he had worked as an executive with the Word Publishing newspaper group. He established the Vanuatu Trading Post in partnership with local investors at a time when Vanuatu had no non-government news media.

Opposition Leader Edward Natapei condemned his deportation as illegal, undemocratic and dictatorial.

He said the real reason for the deportation was that Mr. Neil-Jones was about to break news on a highly questionable deal between the government and an Asian businessman.

Mr. Natapei said transparency by the government is one of the fundamental principles of Vanuatu’s Comprehensive Reform Program.

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