A Vanuatu researcher says landowners from the tribal Nagriamel movement have the right to negotiate with American investors looking to create a free trade zone in Santo's Big Bay area.
Marcellin Ambong, who is writing a book about the history of the Nagriamel Movement, says he has proof that the site of the proposed zone was leased by Nagriamel to a company called the Vemarana Development Corporation three months before Vanuatu became independent in 1980.
This follows claims by custom landowners of Big Bay that the Nagriamel Movement had no right to encourage American investors in their bid for free hold land.
Mr Ambong says 21 custom chiefs gave authorisation to the President of the Nagriamel Movement, Chief Jimmy Steven to take control over the area.
One of the lessees was Michael Oliver who signed as treasurer and secretary of the Vemarana Development Corporation.
Mr Oliver, who is a prohibited immigrant from the US, has been linked with the American investor trying to create the free trade zone.