Malawi threatens arrests over Madonna school row

LILONGWE (Reuters) - Malawi threatened on Thursday to arrest protesting villagers blocking construction of Madonna's multi-million dollar girls academy, a new controversy for the singer in the African country where she has adopted two children.
About 140 villagers are demanding more money for land the government has leased to Madonna's charity -- Raising Malawi.
District Commissioner for Lilongwe Charles Kalemba, other senior government officials and Raising Malawi failed to reach an agreement in talks with representatives of the villagers on Thursday in a bid to resolve the dispute.
"If we cannot agree on this and if you cannot understand that this is government land, then I will have no choice but tell police to arrest you people for blocking development work on the site, " Kalemba told the village chief, Chinkhota.
Madonna launched the construction of the school last month and pledged to build similar facilities in other countries if the project succeeds.
The Raising Malawi Academy for Girls -- in Chinkhota village about 15 km (10 miles) outside the capital Lilongwe -- is expected to be completed in two years and will admit 500 girls from the small southern African country's 28 districts. The construction is expected to cost $15 million.
"We are protesting because we feel government and Raising Malawi have not been fair ... earlier agreements about how much they were supposed to pay us have been scrapped and now we are being told the land does not belong to us," Chinkhota told Reuters after the meeting.
"The construction of this school will be affected if these problems are not resolved, my people are not given enough money for them to buy farm land somewhere else and continue their lives."
Ministry of Lands senior official Nector Mhura said compensation for the land was based on fair market prices.


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