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Leader of New Hebrides rebellion sentenced

By
DENIS REINHARDT

LUGANVILLE, Vanuatu -- The chief justice of Vanuatu Friday sentenced Jimmy Stevens to 14- years imprisonment and a $30,000 fine for leading a South Seas 'bow-and-arrow' rebellion he said had French and American connections.

The bearded Stevens, a bulldozer driver who claims to have fathered 42 children, surprised the court by entering guilty pleas to 11 counts of inciting rebellion and possessing arms and explosives.

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He could have been drawn a 40-year jail term or exile from his island home if tried and convicted.

Chief Justice Frederick Cooke, in handing down his verdict, said the rebels had links with the French resident commissioner and some French nationals in New Caledonia and an American organization called the Phoenix Society.

Stevens led the abortive uprising by plantation owners and natives to prevent their island of Espiritu Santos from becoming part of Vanuatu, a Pacific nation created on July 30 when the British-French colonial administration granted independence to islands that had been called the New Hebrides.

Armed mainly with bow and arrows, and a few shotguns, Stevens and his group took over Espiritu Santo -- the largest and richest of the islands -- on May 28 and proclaimed the breakaway republic of Vemerana. They were backed by French-speaking plantation owners who feared the new government, dominated by English-speaking people, would carry out a promised land reform.

The rebels held out until Anglo-French forces, aided by Papua New Guinea troops, moved in and arrested the white-bearded Stevens.

Cooke said there was evidence of conspiracy to aid the rebellion by certain French officials, but not by the French government.

'In this case, the defense counsel has openly blamed the last French resident commisioner in the (New Caledonia) government, Inspector-General Jean-Jacques Robert, for telling people to rise in opposition to the legal government,' Cook said.

In addition, the justice said French nationals in New Caledonia were part of the conspiracy.

'Stevens had also been invited to America by some bogus society called the Phoenix Society,' Cook said. 'He was feted there and received legal assistance in the drafting of a constitution for the proposed new country.'

The Phoenix Society was founded by Michael Oliver, a real estate developer from Carson City, Nev., and John Hospers, a philosophy professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The organizers were trying to find land to establish a new nation with minimal government authority, probably as a tax haven, according to an Australian magazine.

Others involved in the short-lived rebellion have been tried and sentenced to 18 months to five years in jail.

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